Liège-Bastogne-Liège. La Doyenne. The Old Lady. The fourth of the Monuments. The last Ardennes. The unofficial shift from one-day classics to stage racing.
Cannondale-Drapac hope to surprise in the 103rd running of the Belgian classic. The team of eight will back a single leader despite multiple cards to play.
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the best guys appearing early,” said sport director Tom Southam. “If the best guys appear early here, I’m not worried about that. We’ll be there with the right guys. We have a lot of guys in good shape coming out Basque Country, coming out of Trentino, and we plan to back one of them. I don’t want to say any more than that.”
The team is bolstered by the additions of Davide Formolo and Davide Villella. The pair flew in from Italy on Friday to join Simon Clarke, Alex Howes, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Toms Skujins, Mike Woods and Rigoberto Uran in Liège.
“It’s always been on the cards for these two to come into the race,” said Southam. “It’s a race we’re taking very seriously. They both have great form before the Giro. Traditionally it’s a race where guys going for the Giro are ready. It suits a stage racer a bit more than the other one-day races. They’re going to be a huge asset in this race.”
The course for the 2017 Liège-Bastogne-Liège has been changed from previous years. Last year’s innovation, the cobbled Côte de la Rue Naniot, has been eliminated as have the traditional mid-race trio of climbs in Côte de Wanne, Côte de Stockeu and Côte de la Haut Levée. They are replaced by Côte du Pont, Côte de Bellevaud and Côte de la Ferme Libert. The last of the three averages 12 percent and although it comes more than 80 kilometers from the finish, it could prove decisive.
La Redoute remains. The caravan-lined climb typically marks a shift into the business end of the race. It’s followed first by Côte de La Rouche-aux-Faucons and then Côte de Saint-Nicolas, the latter which regains its position as the penultimate climb before the uphill drag to Ans.
“Liège is another level hard compared to the other Ardennes races,” said Clarke. “It comes down to brute force in the end. You can either push the pedals or you can’t. There’s not a whole lot of tactics that come down to being at the front of the race compared to the other classics. The climbs are longer compared to Fleche and Amstel, which is why it’s more a question of climbing capacity and not so much positioning and being in the front on narrow roads.”
The nature of the course requires all-hands-on-deck in service of the team leader. Energy conservation matters more than positioning.
“Being such a hard classic, it’s even more paramount to look after your captains and help them arrive in the last 20km with the freshest legs possible,” said Clarke. “Because it’s so hard, any efforts to help them conserve energy helps them in the final. A team is vital in that respect.”
Although Cannondale-Drapac have yet to secure the Ardennes week result they have chased, Southam is encouraged by the preparation and execution from his squad.
“If you look where Mike and Rigo were on that last climb in Flèche, they were in the right place,” said Southam. “It’s not easy to do that, to put them there. In WorldTour races, it’s not easy to be where you want to be in a final. It’s take a lot of effort to do that. We arrived there in the way we wanted – similar to Amstel, the guys were in the right place on the Kruisberg before Amstel. In Amstel we just didn’t quite have the right guy for it in terms of to be in that six-man break. Even if Bettiol hadn’t had problems, he would have waited behind, and Mike didn’t have the legs on Wednesday.
“Liège is a completely different kettle of fish,” Southam noted. “A lot can change in the final in Liège. If we do the right thing, we’ll be in with a chance. We can always do things better but the team has been operating at a really high level. They need to continue to do that and then finish things off.”
Liège-Bastogne-Liège begins at 10:15AM CET (2:15AM MDT) and is expected to finish at 4:50PM CET (8:50AM).
The race will be broadcast live on Sporza, Eurosport, RAI Sport, SBS and NBC (via the NBC Gold app). First live pictures are expected at 2:05PM CET (6:05AM).
Cannondale-Drapac for 2017 Liège-Bastonge-Liège:
Simon Clarke (AUS)
Davide Formolo (ITL)
Alex Howes (USA)
Tom-Jelte Slagter (NDL)
Toms Skujins (LVA)
Davide Villella (ITL)
Mike Woods (CAN)
Rigoberto Uran (COL)