Annemiek van Vleuten (Mitchelton-Scott) will return to defend her title at Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes on October 4. Having lost the rainbow jersey to compatriot Anna van der Breggen at the World Championships last weekend, she will instead toe the start line wearing the European Champion's jersey.
The race is normally the finale to the Ardennes Classics in April, however, this year it will be held on October 4 as part of the post-COVID-19 late-season Women's WorldTour calendar.
Van Vleuten is still recovering from a fractured wrist sustained in a crash at the Giro Rosa. After successful surgery and a fitted brace, she was cleared by doctors at the Dutch federation to start the World Championships where she secured the silver medal. Although she skipped Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday, she will start Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“I thought my season could have been over so I am a lucky girl that it isn’t, and I can race as the defending champion in Liège. I think my legs are still good, but I could feel at the world championships that I wasn’t quite the level as before the crash in the Giro-Rosa. I have to deal with that, but I think my level is still good enough," van Vleuten said.
“I will be proud to wear the European jersey and I am very happy to be back with the team too and hopefully we can go for a nice result there together on Sunday.
“I can see that after racing the Giro that already at the world championships the level in the peloton was higher. The level of some riders is still building and growing and after the lockdown, now with every race riders do, their level is growing. So in general it is a very high level now.”
The women's peloton will race 136.5km from Bastogne to Liège.
This year's route will include climbs over Côte de Wanne (56.5km), Côte de la Haute-Levée (66.5km) and Côte de la Vecquée (88.5km).
The meat of the race, however, typically kicks off over the series of climbs in the later stages of the race; Côte de La Redoute (105.5km), where van Vleuten attacked to win last year's rain-soaked edition.
The race takes on the final climb of the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (121.5km) before finishing 15km later in Liège.
This will be the fourth edition for the women’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Anna van der Breggen claimed victory in the first two editions before Annemiek van Vleuten stormed to a solo victory in the cold and rainy conditions last year.
Van der Breggen, the newly crowned double world champion, will be on the start line after a history-making sixth consecutive victory at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. She will be a favourite to win in Liege for a third time, and has a strong team with Amy Pieters and Chantal van den Broek-Blaak, who both played a key role in her victory on the Mur de Huy.
Marianne Vos and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio will line up as co-leaders for the CCC-Liv team, and the team's director Jeroen Blijlevens, expects key attacks to happen on La Redoute.
“The course is the same as last year, with the exception of the final kilometres. However, I don’t see this having a major influence on the development of the race," said Blijlevens. “I expect a controlled build-up to the Côte de La Redoute. The pace will increase as of the Côte de La Vecquee making it difficult to get away and take a lead. The Côte de La Redoute is hence the place where the race is expected to explode. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio indicates that she is strong. Hopefully she can get far.”
Demi Vollering (Parkhotel Valkenburg) will also be a key rider to watch after finishing third last year. She's had a series of strong performances including third places at both La Course and Flèche Wallonne.
Sunweb also field a last year's runner-up with Floortje Mackaij taking the start line. The team also field Liane Lippert and Ana Henderson, who are also contenders for the top-10.
Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) arrives in top shape having a series of success this year with third at the European Championships, fourth at La Courses, second overall at the Giro Rosa, and seventh at the World Championships. Also a podium finisher, Niewiadoma was third in the 2017 edition.
Trek-Segafredo have a strong duo in Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini. Deignan was second in the 2017 edition but has shown top form this year with victories at GP de Plouay and La Course, and she finished sixth at the World Championships and fourth at Flèche Wallonne. Longo Borghini was third overall at the Giro Rosa, third at the World Championships and fifth at Flèche Wallonne.
Marta Bastianelli returns to racing with her Alé BTC Ljubljana team. She hasn't raced since La Course but is always a contender in the 'spring' Classics. She will have strong teammates with Mavi Garcia and Eugenia Bujak.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvelle-Aquitaine Futuroscope) is so close to a WorldTour win, especially after placing third at Trofeo Binda, Tour of Flanders and La Course last year, and then taking second place at Flèche Wallonne on Wednesday. Watch for her to be a podium contender in Liege.
Other riders to watch at Equipe Paule Ka's Mikayla Harvey, Arlenis Sierra (Astana), Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB), Erica Magnaldi (Ceratizit-WNT), and Paula Andrea Patiño (Movistar).
Cyclingnews will bring you the full report, results, news, and gallery from Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
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