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Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2018: Who are the favourites and who should you be backing?

Joe Robinson
20 Apr 2018

A look at the favourites for victory at 'La Doyenne' this weekend

Liege-Bastogne-Liege is the fourth Monument of the cycling calendar and takes place this Sunday in the French-speaking Ardennes region of Belgium. It traditionally ends the Spring Classics season and pits the punchiest climbers in the professional peloton against one another.

The oldest of the five Monuments, Liege's defining characteristic has always been its hilly parcours. The climbs are leg-sapping and ever-present with 11 categorised ascents sprawled across the out-and-back 258km course, nine of which are in the second half of the race.

While 'La Doyenne' has been subject to route changes - with one scheduled for the 2019 race - the epicentre of the race has forever been that of the Cote de La Redoute, a 2.1km climb in the small Wallonian town of Aywaille. 

At an average of 8.4% with pitches of over 20%, La Redoute is regularly the launch pad to victory in the 1990s and 2000s despite being 40km from the finish.

In more modern, conservative times, attacks have been saved until the final few kilometres in Ans.

Recent years have seen the damage done closer to the finish

The final climb of Cote de Saint-Nicolas is the final test of the day, sitting around 6km from the finish. It averages 7.6% over 1.4km and is often a pivotal factor within the race.

The hill's large Sicilian immigrant population has led to the nickname 'Italian Hill' with the rise often being scattered with Italian flags.

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2018: Who are the favourites?

Italian Hill could be the perfect launchpad for native Sicilian Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).

As previously mentioned, Liege is scheduled for a redesign in 2019 with the finish set to move away from Ans with a flatter final rumoured in the centre of Liege itself.

This means that 2018 could present the last opportunity for the pure climbers to take victory.

Last year's edition was almost like Groundhog Day. For the fourth time in his career, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took victory sprinting clear of Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) on the day's final rise before the finish.

It will take a lot to beat the veteran Spaniard matching Eddy Merckx's record of five victories this Sunday, with Valverde often looking unstoppable in Ardennes week.

Valverde took his first Liege win 12 years ago ahead of Paolo Bettini and Damiano Cunego

This dominance is reflected by the bookies. The best price for Valverde to win is currently 9/5 (Betway) which is uncharacteristically short for cycling.

It seems almost inevitable that the 37-year-old will take his fifth title.

The idea of Valverde not winning is difficult to fathom but hopefully could manifest in to reality. Not through a dislike of Valverde, but just as a yearning for change. It's nice to mix things up.

If Valverde does falter, which is unlikely, first to pounce will be Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors). The swashbuckling Frenchman seems the natural heir to Ardennes throne, his capabilities suit that well. 

He is explosive on the steepest of gradients, aggressive in his race craft and can finish fast. Just what is needed for an attritional day such as Liege.

At 6/1 (Betfred), he even represents decent value for money considering his current run of good form compared to those considered rivals.

Nobody doubt the Shark

If I was a betting man - which I am - the lion's share of my money would go on Nibali. Liege remains one of the few races not to grace the Italian's palmares and it seems destiny it will be added. 

Against all odds, the shark of Messina rode solo to victory at sprinters' Monument Milan-San Remo earlier this year typifying his killer instinct to win races regardless of the factors at play.

With a parcours more suited to his attributes, Liege would seem the easier victory. 

With odds of 18/1 (Betway), Nibali is among the favourites but some way off the price of Valverde and co.  Slap down a few quid and you could be pleasantly surprised.

Valverde's dominance means that high odds can be found across the peloton. One of these riders is Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) who rather astonishingly sits at odds of 40/1 (Unibet).

Bardet's fared well at Liege in the past with three top 10s and 13th his worse result over five appearances, pretty impressive. He has also managed a one-day victory at the Classic de l'Ardeche and second at Strade Bianche this season.

Bardet is definitely worth an each-way punt ahead of this weekend's race.

Could Bardet be the first French winner since Bernard Hinault in 1980?

Lotto-Soudal will be relying on the young Belgian duo of Tim Wellens and Tiesj Benoot to produce a result. They currently sit at 25/1 (Betway) and 50/1 (Betway) and could both be worth the flutter if their 1-2 tactics pay off.

Former winners of Liege Simon Gerrans (BMC Racing) and Wout Poels (Team Sky) have both been given long odds of 175/1 (10Bet) and 200/1 (10Bet) yet it is unlikely either will repeat their heroics from editions past.

Those looking for a long shot should consider one man, Jonathan Hivert (Direct Energie). The 33-year-old ProContinental rider is in the twilight years of his career and you may scoff at his chances but just look at his season so far.

He has five victories including a stage of Paris-Nice and the one-day Tour du Finistere. He is on a bit of a roll and will fancy himself to surprise the head of state on the run in to Ans.

At 400/1 (888Sport) he is worth chucking a quid on each-way because you really never do know.

Cyclist takes no responsibility for bets placed or resulting losses. Always remember to gamble responsibly. When the fun stops, stop.