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Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Can Alejandro Valverde make it five or will Primož Roglič repeat?

From the grizzled veteran vs cycling's Gen-Z to Roglič's rivalry with Julian Alaphilippe – here are the threads to follow at 'La Doyenne.'

It’s the biggest, baddest and oldest monument of them all. Liège-Bastogne-Liège lands this weekend, and “La Doyenne” will pack a punch fitting of its venerated status.

After a series of scintillating showdowns from De Brabantse Pijl through Amstel Gold and La Flèche Wallonne, the spring hilly classics wrap up Sunday with a start sheet stacked with talent from all corners of the peloton.

Fresh-faced neo-pros will be looking to upset grizzled veterans, climbers will do battle with strapping rouleurs, and defending champ Primož Roglič will go shoulder-to-shoulder with rainbow jersey Julian Alaphilippe. What’s not to be excited for?

Here are three threads to follow at this weekend’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège:

Alejandro Valverde pushes back against cycling’s kindergarten

Former Liège winner Philippe Gilbert has looked a shadow of his former self this season, and 2019 champ Jakob Fuglsang has been quiet. But not all the peloton’s old dogs have had their tails between their legs – Alejandro Valverde looks in the best form of his life ahead of his 15th appearance at Liège.

Also read: Alejandro Valverde dreams of birthday farewell at Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Racing on what will be his 41st birthday, Valverde could be more than earning his birthday cake come the finish-line in Liège this weekend.

After taking his first win in over 18 months at the start of April and then placing fifth at Amstel Gold Race and third at La Flèche Wallonne in the past week, the Spanish supremo is enjoying his best form since 2018, and it comes perfectly timed – this weekend’s race could be his final appearance at “La Doyenne,” and his last chance to equal Eddy Merckx’s five-win tally.

Valverde has hit form right when he needs to, and has a deep well of experience to draw from when he looks to make it five Sunday. He won’t have it easy, however, as the fresh legs and fresher faces of the peloton’s “Gen-Z” grows increasingly deep.

There’s a veritable kindergarten of talent set to line up for the toughest of all the monuments Sunday. Mauri Vansevenant (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Tom Pidcock (Ineos-Grenadeirs), Ben Tulett (Alpecin-Fenix), Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech), Davide Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), and – should they clear COVID tests Friday – UAE Emirates’ duo of Marc Hirschi and Tadej Pogačar are all 15 to 20 years Valverde’s junior, and will be looking to prove mischief to ol’ grandpa “Bala” on Sunday.

The world champion and the defending champion

Just like Alejandro Valverde, Julian Alaphilippe looks to be hitting his stride just when it matters most.

The world champ was a watt off the pace through the northern classics earlier this year, but has refound his mojo through the Ardennes races that suit him best. Alaphilippe punched into sixth at Amstel in a sign that rainbows do shine bright in spring, and dispelled any thoughts that maybe “Alapanache” was “Alapanot” at La Flèche Wallonne with a searing, race-winning move Wednesday.

Alaphilippe overhauled Primož Roglič just meters from the line atop the Mur de Huy this week in what made for some payback for the Slovenian stealing victory from under his nose at last fall’s Liège. And looking back at what Roglič has done so far this year, it’s highly likely the dynamic duo will be battling for victory again this weekend.

Also read: Roglič has form and motivation ahead of Liège defense

Roglič has been relentless as ever this year, harvesting wins from Paris-Nice through to his dominant ride at Itzulia Basque Country in recent weeks. And although the Jumbo-Visma ace finished way out of contention at the Amstel Gold Race, his ruthless marking of every threat for Wout van Aert paved his teammate’s victory in the Netherlands and made for an early warning of his long-range assault on the Mur on Wednesday.

Inexperience may have cost Roglič the win in his debut appearance at Flèche this week, but “that” winning sprint in last year’s Liège showed that the Slovenian knows how to time his move in Liège-Bastogne-Liège with laser accuracy. Alaphilippe, Roglič, and Valverde shared the podium at Flèche on Wednesday.

They could well be popping the champagne together again Sunday.

Climbers and rouleurs

If a grand tour great or climbing ace is going to win any single monument, it’s likely to be Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The climbs are longer, the tarmac is smoother, and muscling punch can be countered with racecraft and poise.

As a result, it’s not just leading all-rounders such as Julian Alaphilippe and Primož Roglič that will be eyeing victory Sunday – “La Doyenne” will greet a full-house of climber-types including former winner Dan Martin and his teammate Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), Esteban Chaves (BikeExchange), Gaudu, and Ineos Grenadiers trio Richard Carapaz, Adam Yates, and Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Yet the beauty of the modern-era Liège is that it suits no single type of rider.

Race organizers’ recent decision to move the finish line away from the grinding climb into Ans and instead have the final kilometers play out with a descent and dash into the city center gives versatile sprinters and rouleurs an equal chance of taking the tape as any spindly climber.

Also read: Liège-Bastogne-Liège: Does new course design do ‘La Doyenne’ justice?

Last years’ fourth-place finisher Matej Mohorič (Bahrain-Victorious), on-form Gianni Moscon, and Aussie fastman Michael Matthews may not be top favorites, but riders in their mold could well throw a wrench into the plans of Alaphilippe, Valverde, Roglič, et al, this weekend.

It could come down to a solo break, a 15-man gallop, or a two-up cat-and-mouse at LBL on Sunday. Just as the parcours is diverse and sprawling, so too is the startlist and the number of scenarios that could play out between them – and that’s what makes Liège such a must-watch.