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Kwiatkowski aims for Liège with lighter spring schedule

The new Liège-Bastogne-Liège finish attracts a blend of top classics stars. Now, former world champ Michal Kwiatkowski has thrown his hat in the ring.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (VN) — We can add another name to the growing list of star riders hoping to win the new-look Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Michal Kwiatkowski.

On Monday, the former world champion confirmed that he has crafted his 2019 racing schedule around La Doyenne, which this year boasts a revamped finish in downtown Liège. In years past, Kwiatkowski raced a full lineup of one-week stage races and hard classics prior to the Ardennes stretch of races.

That’s not the case this year.

“I’m taking a different approach, which is to start the season late,” Kwiatkowski said. “This year there is not so much racing in the spring. I’m hoping it gives me the freshness and the strength.”

Kwiatkowski’s pathway to the Ardennes classics includes the UAE Tour, Paris-Nice, and the Tour of the Basque Country, as well as a weeklong altitude training camp with his Sky teammates. What’s missing? Kwiatkowski will skip three major races that he has won: Strade-Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, and Tirreno-Adriatico. He’s also forgoing the heavy classics in Belgium, as well as the Volta ao Algarve and Vuelta a la Valenciana.

In 2018 Kwiatkowski had 28 days of racing under his belt by the time he raced Liège; in 2019 it will be 23. The five fewer days of racing add to several weeks of added rest in the off-season.

“Liège has a tricky path — you have to stay fit for such a long period,” he said. “Let’s hope I can be up there and ready to fight for the victory.”

Kwiatkowski’s focus on the hilly Belgian classics further elevates Liège among the other one-day races in the WorldTour. Often criticized for its predictable racing, Liège has a course that organizers believe caters to both climbers and heavy classics stars. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) is likely to compete in the 2019 edition, and Greg van Avermaet has hinted he may race it as well. These riders add significant firepower of traditional favorites, such as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), and Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick Step).

Organizers have revamped the race’s final kilometers for its 105th edition, moving the finish line from the suburb of Ans into downtown Liège. The move adds several kilometers of flat terrain; previously the race finished with an uphill drag to the line. The flat finish could play into the hands of heavy classics stars, like Sagan.

Kwiatkowski is not so certain that Sagan and the other cobblestone specialists will be the ones to watch. The new finish could force climbers like him, Valverde, and others to simply attack earlier, like on the famed climb of La Redoute. The punchy climb now comes 37km from the finish line.

“People are thinking about the possibility that the heavy classics riders like Greg van Avermaet will have a chance and that it will be a more open race, but I’m not so sure,” Kwiatkowski said. “With the easier finale, the race may go earlier and we could see some big attacks in the area around La Redoute.”

Kwiatkowski said the new uncertainty around the race is what convinced him to make it a priority. He has twice finished third in the event, both times behind Valverde. The new finish simply adds to the unknown.

“In the past editions of Liège, it was quite easy to say what [was] going to happen. It had become an obvious race,” Kwiatkowski said. “Now, nobody knows what will happen. So that can make it quite exciting.”