Two of the greats go head to head tomorrow while the finale spot for the podium looks to be a very open race. It is a tough race this one with more than 4000 climbing meters. It suits the climbers.
Easy getting to Bastogne, mighty difficult way home.
The first tough one is Côte de la Redoute. This is usually where the favorites make their move. It was here Evenepoel attacked last year.
The last difficult climb is Roche-Aux-Faucons. The first 1.1 km at 10.8% are tough, then a short dip before the road picks up again. Despite the gradients being easier on the last hundred meters over the top, it feels like hell after 240 km of racing.
Wind from the south, meaning a tailwind on the way home from Bastogne. Fantastic for an attacking mentality. We could see rain drops throughout the day and temperatures around 12 C.
How will the race unfold?
How do you beat Pogacar? I could try and ramble on but it just seems teams are not willing to risk their current approach. Instead, they let Pogacar race the way he wants and it is a game where you can’t beat him. The way you can try and do it is the cobbled-classics approach. The same way you have to be in front of the best on Oude Kwaremont in Tour of Flanders, I think the same can be said for Côte de la Redoute.
Above is the climbs that are usually just used to add fatigue to the race. Teams should try and get out in front of the peloton before Côte de la Redoute. If you don’t, well, good luck trying to follow Evenepoel and Pogacar.
Will this happen? Likely not. As mentioned, teams are not willing to risk a potential top-10 for a long-range attack. We will see Quick-Step and UAE take control of this race. I think the best approach for Quick-Step would be to attack and not control. UAE do not have a very strong team here, it will be very difficult for them to control.
When will they attack? My best guess is on Côte de la Redoute. Where do I hope they attack? On the short, steep climb you see on the profile, 79 km from the line. It would be some show.
Pogacar – the man to beat. It is easier said than done. I see a scenario where he must attack on Côte de la Redoute due to lack of support that deep into the race. Then, he will see who he brings with him and try to distance them on Roche-Aux-Faucons. This time of year is an emotional time for him and his wife, as she lost her mother around this time last year – the reason he did not participate in. There is also the motivation to win all three Ardennes classics in the same season. The only thing his competitors can hope for is he is starting to get a bit tired after a long spring campaign but there are no signs of it.
Quick-Step – This is solely not just an Evenepoel section. He is the rider that can follow Pogacar on a course as this but I seriously do not think he can distance him or beat him a sprint. Therefore, the wonderkid has to hope Alaphilippe is back at his best. He has not raced since Tour of Flanders and he really has not been the same since crashing out here in 2022 and getting covid in Tour de Wallonie. They should also look to use Mauro Schmid as an attacking option. He raced very well in Basque Country.
Vlasov – pulled from Tour of the Alps the day I predict he will win? Harsh move from Bora-Hansgrohe. It is a race that should suit him well as he is very good on short and steep hills. He also did start to get better and better by each day in the Alps but it was a very late announcement. He was 14th here in 2022 and looking at his history in long one-day races, I doubt he can challenge for a podium spot. The team has Higuita too to follow moves. 77th in LFW is not a good sign but he always struggles with positioning. He was very, very good in Basque Country.
Woods – he has a good history here and he looked strong on Mur de Huy. I think he will get another top-10 placement here for his collection. He has finished in the top 10 here six consecutive times.
Benoot – It will be almost impossible to win for him but he is in the same category as Woods. He is a very good cyclist who can cope with the hills and the distance. A top-10 is very likely.
Pidcock – at this point I have given up trying to figure him out. I do not think he is good enough to win from what I saw in Amstel Gold Race and on Mur de Huy. It seems the problem for him is consistency. One day he can be the favorite for LBL and the next day he will DNF when they reach Bastogne. My point is, he is the ultimate dark horse. He is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you are gonna get.
Bahrain – Victorious – Landa on contract year is something else. He may be the rider that can follow Pogacar and Evenepoel but he will not be able to beat them. I think there is a very good chance he scores a good result tomorrow. The issue is the race does end with a flat – he beats very few in a sprint and I do not see him soloing. The team is very strong and the also have Mohoric as a joker.
EF – Healy is the new kid in town. For Amstel Gold Race, I thought the distance would be an issue and did not even care to mention him. 2nd in that race and potentially could have been more. Now, this race has twice the climbing meters and a more stacked field. He should still be able to compete for a top result. I will also mention Powless, who has had two crashes. One in AGR and one in LFW. He says on his social media he is fine, just at the wrong place at the wrong time. So with two DNF in his last two races, I still mean he can fight for a top-10 result here. He goes very well in long tough one-day races.
Skjelmose – I am surprised by him. My thoughts are now that he perhaps is better suited for one-day races than grand tours but it is too early to say. It is very rare that mortals do well in their first GT – it is just something completely different from their usual calendar. He has the punch and he has the legs. Can he cope with the distance? 8th in Amstel Gold Race says yes.
Bardet – we never know how it would have ended had he found space between the barrier and Woods in LFW. Form is going the right way, I expect a top-10 from him.
⭐⭐⭐ Evenepoel, Healy
⭐⭐ Landa, Skjelmose, Vlasov
⭐ Bardet, Pidcock, Benoot, Woods
Who will win?
They can’t beat Pogacar with their current tactics and none is willing to change it.