Hello and welcome to live coverage of Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The peloton is rolling out from the start line in Liège under sunny April skies for the last race of the classics season.
🤩 Prêts pour une Doyenne ensoleillée ?🤩 Ready for a sunny #LBL? pic.twitter.com/tbmPmjcEArApril 24, 2022
Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the oldest Monument, heralds the end of the classics season. The peloton will tackle a route of 257 kilometres containing 4,500 metres of climbing--comparable to a mountainous stage of a Grand Tour. Unlike those stages, the difficulty of Liège comes not from long mountain passes but a seemingly endless catalogue of short, steep climbs.
Out of the neutral zone and onto the course, the 108th edition of Liège is underway!
Last year's winner and the favourite for today's race, Tadej Pogačar announced yesterday that he would not be defending his title. On Thursday, Pogačar’s partner and fiancée Urška Žigart revealed on social media that her mother had passed away, and Pogacar is understood to have travelled to Slovenia to be with her during this time.
Sylvain Moniquet (Lotto-Soudal) is the first rider to breakaway from the peloton and he currently has a small gap over the main field.
Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) is another late withdrawal from the race. His team announced that he was "feeling unwell" but had tested negative for Covid-19. Similarly, Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohë) has withdrawn due to illness and Kamiel Bonneu (Sport Vlaanderen) will not start the race.
Back in the race, meanwhile, Moniquet has been joined by four others-- Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal), Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Jacob Madsen (Uno-X) and Fabien Doubey (TotalEnergies)-- making for an early breakaway of five riders. They have an advantage of 40 seconds.
Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange-Jayco), who finished fourth here in 2017, has quit the race due to sickness. He spoke to Daniel Ostanek about how he was feeling before the start.
"Last night wasn’t so good," Matthews said. "Unfortunately I missed out on Flèche also and I was vomiting most of the night so hopefully I can come round this morning. I have to be honest, it’s not been a great week for me this week. I came here really prepared for Flèche and Liège but with what happened overnight it’s going to be a very difficult race but I’ll try my best and see what I have."
"Hopefully I’m there [in the final] but I think it’s a headwind on the way back so hopefully it makes the race a little bit slower and I can get as far as possible. The shape is really good so hopefully I can pull something out of the bag today. I was really excited for today and still am obviously but what happened over night is going to make it really difficult. I still have high hopes and we are still very confident and we will still try our best."
Two riders-- Kenny Molly and Eugenio Sánchez-- have attacked the peloton and are 55 seconds behind the five-man breakaway. The Quickstep-AlphaVinyl controlled peloton are a further 30 seconds back.
There are five former winners of Liège among the starters today-- Alejandro Valverde, who has won this race four times, Jakob Fuglsang, Wout Poels, Bob Jungels and Philippe Gilbert. It is the last La Doyenne for Gilbert who was greeted by a rapturous reception at the start.
🔥 L’accueil du public de @VilledeLiege pour @PhilippeGilbert.🔥 A VERY warm welcome for @PhilippeGilbert. #LBL pic.twitter.com/uZt9qLXISbApril 24, 2022
It is a frantic start to the race, as various riders are still attempting to bridge across to the breakaway. Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Mathijs Paasschens (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Alex Colman (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise), Danny Van der Tuuk (Equipo Kern Pharma) briefly escaped but have since been reeled by the peloton, along with Molly and Sánchez.
Matej Mohorič is among the favourites for today, along with his teammate Dylan Teuns who won La Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday.
"I hope [the legs] are good," Mohorič said. "I will see how my climbing legs are today. We are definitely motivated as a team, we have a strong team, everybody is healthy and fit so we will do our best to try and win the stage."
"We need to be honest with each other. Of course, not all of us can win, we will need to decide in the final who we will ride for. Of course Dylan is the rider who is in the best shape at the moment. He won Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday so he will go well today for sure. We still have some others who are going well so we will try to make sure we have a good go."
When asked whether Bahrain were planning to ride an aggressive race, Mohorič replied: “We will see, I think we need to see how strong the other teams are who want to control the final and how strong the leaders are and then we will decide.”
Another small chase group has broken away from the peloton in search of the breakaway up front. This group is comprised of Pau Miquel (Equipo Kern Pharma), Kenny Molly (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces) and Luc Wirtgen (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces). It is a big gap to bridge now, though, as the peloton are 3'40" behind the front of the race.
Ineos-Grenadiers have had a successful Classics campaign already, winning Paris-Roubaix with Dylan van Baarle, Amstel Gold Race with Michał Kwiatkowski, and De Brabantse Pijl with Magnus Sheffield.
"[It's been a] big block [of racing] but an exciting block," Kwiatkowski said at the start. "It will be nice to finish off with Liège-Bastogne-Liège before a break.
Asked about his relationship with Liège, Kwiatkowski said: "Very different from year to year. It is a nasty one, you have to be on a good day, obviously a lot of ascending metres. The distance and the history of the race just show that the strongest guy wins and hopefully as a collective team we can play our cards in the final and go for the win- that’s our objective."
"It's still a kind of unpredictable race in terms of what’s going to happen from the top of La Redoute which is obviously a very tough climb. From the top of La Roche-aux-Faucons it’s 11 kilometres and there was always some movements from riders, we’ve seen in the past. Its been raced from a small group for the victory but you can go solo, we just have to pay attention and just play with the cards and with the other rivals, what the race will bring. It’s hard to say, you just have to be open-minded and feel the race."
The gap from the peloton to the original five-man breakaway has ballooned to 5'15". Another group of six riders-- Pau Miquel (Equipo Kern Pharma), Baptiste Planckaert (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies), Marco Tizza, Kenny Molly and Luc Wirtgen (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces)-- are attempting to join them, and are 50 seconds behind the head of the race.
And the chasers have now bridged across so there is a large breakaway at the head of the race.
To recap, the riders in this 11-man group are: Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Jacob Madsen (Uno-X), Fabien Doubey (TotalEnergies), Sylvain Moniquet and Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal), Pau Miquel (Equipo Kern Pharma), Baptiste Planckaert (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies), Marco Tizza, Kenny Molly and Luc Wirtgen (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces).
The women's race is approaching its finale on the Côte de la Redoute, with Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (SD Worx) starting to splinter the race. You can follow along with the last 30 kilometres here.
In the men's race, Bahrain Victorious and QuickStep-AlphaVinyl are controlling proceedings in the peloton at the moment. Between them, they have three of the day's big favourites-- Julian Alaphilippe, Dylan Teuns and Matej Mohorič. You can catch up on five favourites and five outsiders for victory here.
Somehow, Alaphilippe has not yet won La Doyenne. Last year, he finished second behind Pogačar and in 2020, he celebrated as if he'd won the race but had been beaten by Primož Roglič and was ultimately relegated to fifth after deviating from his line in the sprint.
"I’ve already forgotten my fourth place on Wednesday," Alaphilippe said before the start, referring to La Flèche Wallonne. "I’m just happy and motivated to be at the start here. I’m focused and happy too. The weather is good, the team is solid and we’ll give our maximum."
No Pogacar is good news for you?
"Well, above all it’s bad news for him. I’m not really thinking about that, I’m focused on my race."
Will his absence change the race?
"I don’t know, UAE have still brought a very strong team so we’ll see if they want to control things or if they want to make the race hard like some other teams. We’ll have to see and we’ll have to be prepared for lots of scenarios. It’s Remco’s first participation but we know that he has the ability to win already. We’ll see how it plays out in the finale. If he wins, I would be very happy."
The breakaway, that contains two Lotto-Soudal riders, still maintains a gap of 5'25" over the peloton.
🇧🇪 #LBLA breakaway of eleven riders has formed in steps with two of our guys in there: @Harm_VH and @sylvainmoniquet. They currently hold 5 minutes advantage over the bunch with one rider still in between.🏁 190 km to go pic.twitter.com/PbGuYA4zLQApril 24, 2022
Although the riders have been on undulating roads already, they are now tackling the first categorised climb of the day. The Côte de la Roche-en-Ardenne is 2.8 km long with an average gradient of 6.2%.
Luc Wirtgen was the first rider to crest the first categorised climb of the day. The 23-year-old Luxembourger was in the breakaway earlier this week too at La Flèche-Wallonne, and he finished 3rd overall in