Every year it feels like the Spring Classics fly by, and 2023 has been no exception. It’s hard to believe we are closing in on the final one-day Classic of the season: Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes. The first two Ardennes, Amstel Gold Race and La Flèche Wallonne, were both won by Demi Vollering of SD Worx, and all eyes will be on the Dutch rider on Sunday. Can she follow in the footsteps of her team director Anna van der Breggen and sweep all three in a single season? Or will she find La Doyenne more challenging than the previous two?
Below you will find everything you need to know ahead of the race on Sunday, and some things you probably didn’t need to know. As ever, you can find a detailed preview of the men’s race, written by the one and only Dane Cash, here.
What you need to know
Liège-Bastogne-Liège kicks off Sunday April 23rd at 8:40 am CEST/ 2:40 am ET. The women are expected to hit the first of three final climbs, the point in the parcours where things really start to heat up (more on that in a second), at 11:30ish am CEST, with the finish one hour later at 12:30.
The ASO altered the course slightly from the 2022 edition, but as per usual the peloton will line up in Bastogne and ride north to finish in Liège. Along the 142.8 kilometer route they will tackle nine short but steep climbs, the first ascent is 51.7 km into the race and the rest come thick and fast until near the finish.
The climbs range from 1 km in length to 4.4 km, with the steepest being Côte de Stockeu with 76 km to go and the longest, Col du Rosier, with 58 km to go.
The real crux point is the famed Côte de la Redoute, a 1.6 km-long climb that averages 9.4% and is perfectly placed at 34 km to go. Two climbs follow, Côte des Forges and Côte de la Roche-Aux-Faucons. The final climb is where the winning move has solidified itself time and time again. With an average grade of 11% it doesn’t matter that it’s only 1.3 km in length. At this point the peloton is tired, and already significantly reduced.
It was on this final climb where Anna van der Breggen led a group of five to the finish in 2021, and where her teammate Vollering ultimately took her first WorldTour victory. Annemiek van Vleuten also chose the final climb to make her move in 2022, riding away from the rest of the favourites like they were standing still and taking the final 13 km to the finish solo.
The race has also been won on the Côte de la Redoute, like in 2020 when Lizzie Deignan attacked and rode solo for the final 30 km to win. So these final 35 km are crucial.
Riders to watch
The number-one favourite on everyone’s mind is Demi Vollering. The SD Worx rider won the Amstel Gold Race with a solo move on the final ascent of the day and followed that result by dominating the Mur de Huy to win La Flèche Wallonne. Vollering is absolutely flying, and has shown she is ready to take the triple (win all three Ardennes Classics).
SD Worx has also been the standout team of the Spring Classics season, winning seven of 10 races with four different riders, including Marlen Reusser who will start alongside Vollering.
2022 winner Van Vleuten hasn’t been in her best form so far in 2023 but her new teammate on Movistar Liane Lippert has been looking very good, especially on Wednesday when she rode to second behind Vollering at La Flèche Wallonne. Van Vleuten will be an asset to Lippert on Sunday, but she can also never ever be discounted in her own right.
Although the finish to La Flèche Wallonne is very different from the flat run-in we will see Sunday, the results there are usually a good indication of the riders who will be active in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Gaia Realini, the Italian on Trek-Segafredo, climbed to third on Wednesday, her second impressive performance of the season. The young rider would be a decent bet for a podium place on Sunday depending on how hard the climbs are raced. Her teammate Elisa Longo Borghini also continues to chip away at fitness after she contracted COVID-19 earlier in the season.
Looking back to Amstel, a few riders had good legs there and likely will fare better at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Riejanne Markus of Jumbo-Visma in particular had some bad luck last Sunday but was strong in the finale. The same goes for FDJ-Suez’s Grace Brown, who finished sixth at Amstel.
Brown’s teammate Évita Muzic rode strongly on Wednesday after the team’s other leader Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig crashed. The three FDJ-Suez riders could play their cards for an advantage over some other teams that don’t have the same numbers.
Team DSM’s Pfeiffer Georgi, who targeted the cobbled Classics earlier in the year, is carrying that form over into Ardennes week. The British rider finished seventh at Amstel Gold Race. Her teammate Juliette Labous is also one to watch out for.
Finally, Silvia Persico of UAE Team ADQ broke out in 2022 and has continued to impress into the new year, winning De Brabantse Pijl just before finishing ninth and eighth at Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift and La Flèche Wallonne, respectively.
Other riders to keep in mind: Elisa Chabbey and Kasia Niewiadoma of Canyon-SRAM, Veronica Ewers of EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, Kristen Faulkner of Jayco-AlUla, and Ashleigh Moolman Pasio for AG Insurance-Soudal Quick-Step.
Conversations with the Wheel Talk Podcast
Loren Rowney: I know you said Demi is off limits, but could we see a repeat of VDB from 2017 or was it ’18 where she did the triple? 🙃 [Ed. – Yep, 2017]
Tilda Price: I want Ashleigh to have a go!! She never really had the chance to attack on Wednesday and just slipped down the group.
Loren: Yes! We haven’t really seen her this spring have we? Not like last year … or did she start performing more in May with the stage races?
Tilda: She was certainly up there in the Ardennes last year. Bit of a tussle with Demi.
Loren: That’s right. I wonder if she has had a different lead-up this season and is putting a big focus on the tours.
Tilda: Yes, maybe going for an Annemiek-style plan, focusing on the longer climbs. Not like she hasn’t been good, she looked great in Spain but maybe doesn’t have the little kick you need.
Loren: So if a small group goes, we will probably see a very similar composition to the group that went with Demi in La Flèche Wallonne.
Tilda: For sure. Elisa Longo Borghini was looking very good. Even though it was Gaia Realini in the end.
Loren: Yep. I’d pick ELB for Trek-Segafredo over Gaia for Sunday.
Tilda: A race she’s never won (with the big caveat that hardly anyone has).
Loren: I’d love to see her win it. If Trek can have better numbers than SDW, then they have a chance. Demi was isolated in those last 15 km on Wednesday … still won. 😅
Abby Mickey Skujina: They’ve also got that additional climb, Côte des Forges, in between Côte de la Redoute and Côte de la Roche-Aux-Faucons so I wonder if that will make it even more selective. Same finale as 2021 and that was such a great race.
Loren: Was that when Anna van der Breggen led out Demi? For like 20 km?
Tilda: I keep feeling like the elastic has to snap somewhere for Demi and SD Worx, but then it seems like regardless of the tactics or situation, Demi is just stronger right now. What do we think about Grace Brown? FDJ-Suez’s multi-prong attack has been a bit meh this week.
Loren: I think her form is OK. But she doesn’t seem to have that same oomph. Garcia looked good in Fleche.
Abby: I dunno I feel like a better indication of the race is Amstel Gold Race than La Flèche Wallonne.
Loren: The finish in Fleche isn’t a good representation. But she seemed to go with Demi’s attack without the most “ease.”
Abby: Ok so the other big question … will AvV come good?
Loren: Again … no oomph. She will be an asset to Lippert though.
Abby: There’s going to be a moment that comes seemingly out of nowhere; maybe its Sunday.
Tilda: I was so excited about Lippert at Fleche!
Abby: She was amazing at Fleche! Ok … give me your picks. And Demi is off limits because … I don’t think she can be beaten.
Wheel Talk Podcast Picks:
Picks below are in order, riders picked already are then off limits, and with her current streak so is Demi Vollering. You may not like it, but I make the rules here.
Loren: Liane Lippert
Tilda: Mavi García
Abby: Ashleigh Moolman Pasio
Matt de Neef: Silvia Persico
Gracie Elvin: Grace Brown
What you didn’t know you need to know
Next to being the start and finish of one of the oldest bike races on the calendar (for the men, the women’s race started in 2017) Liège is also the birthplace of something infinitely more wonderful than a cycling event: the Liège waffle.
Orginally sold on the street as a post-Sunday Mass snack, the Liège waffle is drastically different from Belgium’s other famous waffle, the Stroopwafel. Liège waffles are thick, sticky, and rich with pearl sugar sprinkled throughout to form a little hit of sweetness with every bite. If you’ve never had a Liège waffle you are missing out on something incredible.
The pearl sugar that makes the Liège waffle one of a kind is exactly what it sounds like. Balls of sugar that caramelize slightly when the dough is put into the waffle iron.
Another aspect of the Liège waffle that sets it apart is the brioche dough. Whereas normal waffles are made with a batter, making the Liège waffle takes time, commitment, and patience. The brioche dough needs to rise overnight so they require at least a day of pre-planning.
So, with not nearly enough time to find pearl sugar and make the dough before the race on Sunday, here is my sister’s favourite recipe. You’re welcome.
When to tune in
Live coverage of the race kicks off at 11:15 CEST and is expected to run only an hour and 45 minutes, a little more than the bare minimum for a Women’s WorldTour race. For those watching in Europe GCN+ is the place for you, for those in North America tune into Peacock (USA) or FloBikes (Canada).
What did you think of this story?