Of all of the teams starting Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Israel-Premier Tech have the most to lose and to gain. Facing relegation from the WorldTour in 2023 when the UCI limits the top tier to 18 teams and battling with Lotto Soudal to stay above the cutoff, they will be relying on 2019 winner Jakob Fuglsang and 2018 runner-up Michael Woods to turn the team's fortunes around.
Woods, 35, won a stage in Gran Camiño in February but, according to the team's pre-race press release, both he and Fuglsang have been ill in recent weeks. Woods' sixth place in La Flèche Wallonne showed he is back on track.
"I was sixth on Wednesday at Flèche Wallonne," Woods said in an interview with CyclingPro. "My legs were really good, I just had a bit of bad luck on the run-in. I'm feeling really optimistic for tomorrow. The way the legs were, there's no reason I can't have success on Sunday."
The Canadian said that the change to the Liège-Bastogne-Liège course with a finish in Liège rather than the suburb of Ans, with the removal of the Côte des Forges from the final 30km (because of damage from last July's massive flooding) and the flatter run-in suits his strengths less than the old route.
"Aside from my first year when I broke my hand I've finished in the top 10 every time I've done this race," Woods said. "One of the best results of my career was second here in 2018. It's a race I love, it's super competitive. I'm not a huge fan of the new course because it doesn't suit my skill set as much, but it's a great place to finish. I like that it's finishing in Liège instead of near a Carrefour," Woods said, referring to the finish line in Ans which was adjacent to the Hypermarché Carrefour grocery store.
His teammate Fuglsang, also speaking with CyclingPro, agreed that the downhill run-in to the flat finish was trickier tactically, but he showed it was possible winning on a similar finish in 2019.
"It's of course a bit more difficult than the old finish in Ans but it's not impossible," Fuglsang said. "The race maybe has to be harder from further out. The parcours this year has a small climb after La Redoute, which makes an even bigger possibility that the race will be open earlier.
"I don't know exactly how we'll play it, we have a strong team and for sure have two guys who can be there to battle for the win in the final with me and Woods. I think we are both in good shape - maybe not as good as we could hope but it's coming and we've shown some good things. I believe we can have two cards to play in the final and hopefully, that will be the key to win."
Woods agreed that the race needs to break up early for his team to have a good chance of winning.
"You've got guys like Wout van Aert here and other really strong riders. In the past years where I've been good it's been really difficult to get separation on this course - particularly on the headwind on Roche-aux-Faucon. We have to race aggressive, I can't let it come down to a sprint and neither can Jakob, so we have to play our cards the best we can and hope we have the legs."
Israel-Premier Tech are 68 points ahead of Lotto Soudal in the three-year rankings and 46 points behind Cofidis, having lost ground after pulling the team out of the Tour of Flanders due to Covid-19 cases in the team. A podium would go a long way toward securing the team's WorldTour future. There are 500 important UCI points on the line for the winner in Liège, 400 for second and 325 for third.
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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.
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