Australia’s recent cycling success has come on the Gold Coast at the Commonwealth Games, but they have plenty of talent overseas and Michael Matthews can go close to giving cycling betting fans down under something to cheer about in the 2018 installment of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
The Australian has always been one of the best all-rounders in the peloton and after an early spring curtailed by injury when he fractured a shoulder before Strade Bianche, he has impressed with a steadily improving run of results since his comeback.
13th at both E3 and Gent-Wevelgem, he was going well and in the leading group at Amstel Gold before puncturing at the worst possible time – before the crucial ascent of the Cauberg - ruining his chances of the win, although he still managed to finish a very creditable 23rd then.
His performance in Wednesday’s Fleche Wallone when fifth was a fine effort that caught the eyes of many when he was below the very punchiest climbers but able to maintain impressive effort late up the Muir De Huy, and that should have him close to his peak here.
A light season – even if enforced upon him by injury – is no bad thing and he should have plenty of support for the last classic and last year’s fourth has every chance of improving upon that finish this time around.
Alejandro Valverde was beaten for the first time in four years at Fleche Wallone in midweek and there appears to be no good reason for him to be shorter than Quick-Step’s Julian Alaphilippe, who was dominant when taking victory on Wednesday. The Frenchman was particularly dominant in victory, being well placed by Quick-Step to get the first jump on Valverde and eventually winning by four seconds at the line.
He benefitted a great deal from Quick-Step’s numbers in the finale, with the presence of Max Schachmann in the late breakaway a particularly vital card given that Movistar were forced into the chase all day, and once again he is likely to have a tactical advantage this time around.
Alaphilippe missed last year’s Ardennes thanks to a knee injury that would keep him out of the Tour de France but the year before he was second to Valverde, having finished sixth at Amstel Gold. In fine form throughout the season, he appears to be the finished package and he’s very fairly priced fair priced to go one better this time.
Another interesting rider to watch out for is Romain Kreuziger. Previous efforts here are often a good pointer to success and Kreuziger’s are as good as any in the field. He was fourth in 2011, then seventh, fifth, and seventh again between 2014 and 2016. This year he appears to be in even better form, having jumped clear with Michael Valgren to be part of the winning move and eventually taking second.
He impressed when one place ahead of Matthews on the Huy in Fleche Wallone and he should have equal leadership at the very least with Michel Albasini this year. The odds of 30/1 with 888sport at the time of writing might be a risk but even then prices of 25/1 listed at some of the top betting sites on the web are fair.
Tim Wellens was a popular choice for Fleche Wallone but he was outshone by teammate Jelle Vanendert, who managed to ride the majority of the field off his wheel before he was jumped by Alaphilippe and Valverde. The pair give Lotto an interesting pair of cards to play late.
Liege-Bastogne-Liege has ‘just’ 11 categorised climbs for the riders to tackle which is significantly fewer than other Spring Classics like the Tour of Flanders or the Amstel Gold Race for example, but they are all packed into the second half of the race. This means that the overwhelming majority of the 4,500 meters climbing through the day comes in the last 100 kilometres.
The most important categorised climbs are the last three in the race. They are The Cote de La Redoute (2km at 8.9%, which peaks 35.5km from the finish), The Cote de La Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3km at 11%, which peaks 19km from the finish) and The Cote de Saint-Nicolas (1.2km at 8.6%, which peaks 5.5km from the finish).
This is itself actually uncategorized, but it more often than not will decide the outcome of the race. The 1.4 kilometres stretch up to the finishing line at Ans averages 5% but it has maximum sections where the road rises to 10% and timing is absolutely crucial here given that there’s a right-hand turn before a false flat to the line which often sees a sprint for glory.
It’s here where having a strong team can make all the difference to keep a rider from hitting the front and using most of their effort until as late as possible, although many of the people’s more seasoned riders will be able to wheel surf until the time is right to launch their finishing effort.