April 20 th 2024 - 18:05

Liège-Bastogne-Liège once again marks the finale of the classics season and ahead of the 110th edition, attention is closely focused on the battle between Tadej Pogacar and Mathieu Van der Poel. The 2021 winner aims to win a sixth ‘Monument’ which would place him on a par with the World Champion, whilst Van der Poel is also on a quest for a possible Flanders-Roubaix-Liège treble which has never been achieved in cycling history.  

The two favorites, who had the instinct to avoid the extreme conditions of La Flèche Wallonne last Wednesday, will have plenty of strong rivals on the start line. Tom Pidcock and Mattias Skjelmose, just like Dylan Teuns, Stephen Williams, Santiago Buitrago, Tobias Johannessen and Simon Yates will be pushing to disrupt the much anticipated Pogacar vs Van der Poel showdown.  

A strong French presence in the peloton was underlined by performances in La Flèche Wallonne, in particular from Kevin Vauquelin (2nd), Benoit Cosnefroy (4th) and Romain Grégoire (7th). Candidates like David Gaudu, Valentin Madouas, Guillaume Martin and Romain Bardet will also try to influence the race.

20/04/2024 - Liège-Bastogne-Liège - Présentation des équipes - VAN DER POEL Mathieu (ALPECIN-DECEUNINCK)
20/04/2024 - Liège-Bastogne-Liège - Présentation des équipes - VAN DER POEL Mathieu (ALPECIN-DECEUNINCK) © A.S.O./Billy Ceusters
20/04/2024 - Liège-Bastogne-Liège - Présentation des équipes - PIDCOCK Tom (INEOS GRENADIERS)
20/04/2024 - Liège-Bastogne-Liège - Présentation des équipes - PIDCOCK Tom (INEOS GRENADIERS) © A.S.O./Billy Ceusters
20/04/2024 - Liège-Bastogne-Liège - Présentation des équipes - POGACAR Tadej (UAE TEAM EMIRATES)
20/04/2024 - Liège-Bastogne-Liège - Présentation des équipes - POGACAR Tadej (UAE TEAM EMIRATES) © A.S.O./Billy Ceusters


After the exceptionally difficult conditions that the riders faced at La Flèche Wallonne last Wednesday, the question of the weather is on everyone's mind on the eve of Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Temperatures are expected to reach only around 10°C during the afternoon and a headwind is forecast on the return journey to Liège which could influence the race. In view of the expected duel between Tadej Pogacar and Mathieu Van der Poel, it could even be that this factor favours the World Champion Mathieu van der Poel, as Jean-Michel Monin, the man in charge of the parcours, explains: “A headwind tends to delay attacks and this could advantage him. It’s in his interest for the race to be decided in a sprint in small groups, even if he could still be beaten that way. As for “Pogi”, it would be more his style to attack from afar, but still not as far out as in the Strade Bianche. I can see his team starting to set a very fast pace as they approach the strategic climbs, that is to say from the Côte de Mont-le-Soie, about a hundred kilometers from the finish. In the same way that Remco Evenepoel attacked the last two years on the Côte de la Redoute, he is fully capable of doing so too. On the other hand, if there are still a handful of favourites up front in the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, he could start to worry about his chances of beating MVDP in the final.”    


The winner of the 2021 edition has created a scaled back racing program this year with a view to a Giro-Tour de France double and he is meticulous in his approach at every race. This strategy notably saw him avoid defending his title at Flèche Wallonne: “I was very happy to train at home, in the sun and in 20°C temperatures!" With a particular soft spot for the Doyenne, which was his first ‘Monument’ victory, Pogacar assumes the role of favorite and naturally identified Mathieu Van der Poel as one of his main rivals. “I can’t wait to race against him,” explains the Slovenian. “This race is more suited to climbers than to riders like him, but everyone knows that he is capable of anything. What he is doing this year is incredible, he is at a phenomenal level in all the races he is targeting. He’s a rider for the big races. In fact, he's so strong that it's not really fun to race against him." The two-time winner of the Tour, however, expects an open battle rather than a face-to-face with the World Champion: “There are a good number of contenders, everyone who was in the Top 15 of La Flèche and Amstel can be there at the front of the race. For La Flèche, my first prediction was Mattias Skjelmose and my second pick was Stephen Williams.”  


Mathieu van der Poel has been riding brilliantly in the World Champion’s jersey since the start of the year, winning the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. The Dutch rider now embarks on an unprecedented conquest, in which he knows that Tadej Pogacar will be his main opponent. “I feel pretty good and it’s my last classic of the spring, so I’m going to give it my all once again,” says the most formidable ‘Monuments’ rider in the peloton. “I believe that legs will play more of a role than tactics in a race like this. We know that Pogacar is very hard to beat, but I will try. It will be difficult for me and for all the other riders in the peloton, but we have to give it a go. There are a lot of contenders, we saw that Pidcock was in good shape in the Amstel, Skjelmose is also doing a good job and there are a number of very good climbers.”  


Although he retired from the race last Wednesday at La Flèche Wallonne, Tom Pidcock is in good form at the moment, having taken the win in the Amstel Gold Race last weekend. The Ineos Grenadiers leader has already ridden well at La Doyenne. Last year he finished second behind Remco Evenepoel. “I think last year I raced super well. Tactically and also physically, I got the most out of what I had in the locker, so I can be proud of that. Of course a podium at a Monument is fantastic but I really want to chase my first monument win and that’s what I try to do every time I start one now. Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of my favorite races, but I expect to suffer… and I’m ready for that.” Pidcock will be able to count on the support of his Ineos Grenadiers colleague Egan Bernal, who is back in competition after his 3rd place in the Tour of Catalonia. The Colombian champion has rarely raced in Belgium, with the exception of the first two stages of the 2019 Tour, which he ultimately finished in yellow in Paris.  


Stephen Williams achieved a notable feat by winning at the top of the Mur de Huy on Wednesday. After having taken that prestigious victory, the Briton is in a highly positive frame of mind ahead of his Doyenne debut: “This will be my first Liège-Bastogne-Liège and I’m very excited to line up on Sunday. Also, to have guys like former winner Jakob Fuglsang here to share his experience with me in the race will be invaluable. The win in Flèche Wallonne was obviously a big moment for me but we aren’t done yet. We have a strong team here and we are getting set for Sunday.” In addition to the 2019 winner Fuglsang the Israel-Premier Tech team also features Dylan Teuns, who has twice finished in the Top 10 in Liège (6th in 2022): “Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of my favorite races on the calendar. The climbs suit me well and I believe I have the shape to be in the mix on Sunday. Our team has had a great start to the season and we are all eager to continue like this. Stevie’s victory at Flèche Wallonne also proves that we have several strong cards to play in these challenging races. We are ready.”  


The Groupama-FDJ team fields several French riders capable of distinguishing themselves in the classics. Among them, Valentin Madouas considers himself ready to complete the spring races in style and is aiming to finish on the podium, just as he did at the Tour of Flanders in 2022. “We feel good,” states the French champion, “The team is having a good season of classics and personally I have good feelings. I placed twice in the Top 15 in the first two Ardennes, and now I come here to try to do better than last year. 5th place was already very good, but if I finish with a podium, it would be a very successful classics campaign. I can see the UAE Team Emirates starting to ride very hard as soon as the climbs start. Pogacar will certainly attack early enough to take the fight to Mathieu Van der Poel. We’re going to finish hard and give everything we have.” It was precisely the year of Pogacar's victory that his teammate David Gaudu finished on the podium at La Doyenne (3rd). This year, Marc Madiot's team could also witness a stroke of brilliance from Romain Grégoire, who will debut at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but made a strong impression in his first ever Flèche Wallonne by taking 7th place.  


Tom Pidcock and Stephen Williams are the two Britons who have already scored memorable wins this week, but another British rider will also be aiming for more success in the final race in the Ardennes. Having already won AlUla Tour this year, he comments, “Liege is always a great race to be on the start line at, it’s an iconic race and I have only raced it two times in my career. The weather has turned quite wet and cold as we saw in Fleche Wallonne, so that can affect the race quite a lot. I’m looking forward to getting back into racing, it is a long and hard race, and we know it is going to be tough. The team we have is good, these guys have been racing a lot recently. It was nice to see two British winners in Amstel and then Flèche. I would love to win Liege one day, it’s of course one of the Monuments so a special race to win. It will be a very hard edition and especially with these cold conditions.”

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