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Liège-Bastogne-Liège: If you watch one race Sunday, make it the women’s

The women's Liège-Bastogne-Liège is only five years old but it has never failed to excite.

Women’s cycling is boring, right? Wrong.

Not to throw any shade on the men’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège, because I’m sure it will be great, but if you’re going to watch one cycling race Sunday then it should be the women’s.

It’s an early start if you’re in Europe and it is even earlier if you live in the United States, but don’t let that put you off.

Also read: Ardennes week: Why we love the hilly classics

Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday brings to a close what has been one of the most competitive and exciting openings to a women’s season. And that is a very high bar already.

Speak to almost any rider and they will tell you that the strength and depth of the peloton in 2021 is better than it has ever been. The competition has been red hot and not one rider or team has been able to dominate above others.

Even this last week has seen fluctuating form and curious tactics that makes predicting Sunday’s race even harder than usual. At 140 kilometers, Liège-Bastogne-Liège is one of the longer races on the calendar, but it is still short enough that it packs plenty of punch and aggression.

If you were to some up women’s racing in one word, then it would be aggression. Races are rarely formulaic, and the top riders are hardly ever afraid to take things by the scruff of the neck.

Lizzie Deignan’s winning move in last year’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège went with 30km to go and delivered television viewers a tense chase, all the way to the line.

In 2019, Annemiek van Vleuten went from a similarly long range, and though her victory seemed more certain, it was no less thrilling to see a rider destroying the competition like that – though we would have to wait for video highlights to watch it because it wasn’t actually shown on television back then.

We’re unlikely to see a romp quite like van Vleuten’s this year but doesn’t mean we won’t see riders trying to emulate it.

Who are the contenders?

Annemiek van Vleuten soloed to victory in the 2019 Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Annemiek van Vleuten soloed to victory in the 2019 Liege-Bastogne-Liege Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Van Vleuten is, of course, on great form at the moment with her victory at the Tour of Flanders just a few weeks ago. She has been hovering around the top spots throughout the Ardennes races, but Liège-Bastogne-Liège is where she really shines.

Also read: Flèche Wallonne: Anna van der Breggen and the magnificent seven

Anna van der Breggen has won this race twice but not since the finish moved into the center of Liège in 2019. After a rocky start to the Ardennes week, the Dutch rider is in the ascendancy after her storming victory at Flèche Wallonne.

This will be van der Breggen’s final Liège-Bastogne-Liège and she would love to depart the Belgian race with a hat-trick of wins. She is not the only member of her team with the capability of riding to victory in Liège and Demi Vollering is a strong contender for the win, along with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.

Defending champion Deignan is not racing this weekend after she made the call to skip the Ardennes classics altogether this year. Nevertheless, Trek-Segafredo has plenty of firepower in Elisa Longo Borghini, Ruth Winder, and Ellen van Dijk.

The American squad has been utilizing its strength and power to pick apart races throughout the spring and they will no doubt take the same approach Sunday.

Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ Nouvell Aquitaine Futuroscope) have been aggressive all year and are unlikely to relent at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It might not be her favored terrain but don’t count out Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) either or Amanda Spratt (Team BikeExchange).

Get up early, make yourself a cup of coffee (or tea) and watch this race. You won’t regret it.