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Rivals: New Liège-Bastogne-Liège finish favors Sagan

The new finish for the Belgian monument could lead to a sprint showdown between Peter Sagan and others, other riders say.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) will aim at winning the early monuments like Milano-Sanremo, but the new version of Liège-Bastogne-Liège should make him happy, according to his rivals.

Organizer ASO officially released the new Liège-Bastogne-Liège route Tuesday, which it stripped of the hilltop finish in Ans. Instead, the Belgian monument will finish in the center of Liège. The final climb, the Roche-aux-Faucons, now comes 15 kilometers from the finish.

“The course may erupt earlier, but the final is much less heavy without the Saint Nicolas,” Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) told Het Nieuwsblad.

“Peter Sagan will be happy with this. Michael Matthews too. He was already fourth on the old course, but now he is completely a candidate. A sprint with a group of roughly 12 seems likely.”

The race, which began in 1892, is the fourth of five monuments on the cycling calendar. It covers 256km with its start in Liège and a finish, now after 28 years, back in Liège.

The race includes nine climbs in the last 100km. The Wanne, Stockeu and Haute-Levée are followed by the Redoute, Forges and Roche-aux-Faucons, where Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-Quick Step) attacked toward his eventual 2018 win.

No longer will the race climb to the Liège suburb of Ans for its finish. Instead of the short but difficult ascent, it will race into the French-speaking city of Liège.

Peter Sagan is building his season to be ready for the classics from Milano-Sanremo to Paris-Roubaix, wanting to specifically win those or the Tour of Flanders.

However, for 2019, Sagan decided to stretch himself the additional weeks to Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He will also race the Amstel Gold Race. Considering the new Liège finish, it is a well-timed decision by Sagan to test himself.

“Eight weeks at top level … That’s really hard,” Patxi Vila, Sagan’s sport director and coach, told VeloNews last year about the possibly of going all the way through to Liège-Bastogne-Liège. “He should at least try it though.”

Sagan already won the Tour of Flanders in 2016 and Paris-Roubaix in 2018. He will start his buildup with the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy on March 13.

One of his top rivals, Belgian Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team), will not attempt to race through to Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Van Avermaet, winner of the 2017 Paris-Roubaix, will likely end his spring campaign the week before at the Amstel Gold Race in The Netherlands.

“It remains a real Liège-Bastogne-Liège,” Van Avermaet told Het Nieuwsblad.

“I honestly do not expect the classic riders to survive that final. Not if you’re working already in Milano-Sanremo because in Liège, you’ll come up against fresh riders.”

Typically in the Ardennes Classics — the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège — smaller climbers come into play. Riders like Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) will skip the earlier classics to be specifically prepared.

Sagan, as Van Avermaet suggested, may find that his strength cannot match theirs after going 100 percent since Milano-Sanremo, but 2019 will be the year to try Liège-Bastogne-Liège.