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Against the Odds: Liege-Bastogne-Liege

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The last of the spring's monuments, and a wide open race for predicitons

Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2016 Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

In his latest educational preview, the boss posited that Sunday’s race is in the middle ground in terms of predictability. In terms of race structure, course, all that good stuff? Sure. In terms of recent winners? Maybe. In terms of the sheer range of riders with a realistic chance of winning, or hitting the podium? This is the most open of the lot.

Before you find a winner, you have to wade through the hilly one-day specialists (Gilbert, Valverde, Dan Martin (hush, Conor. He was in 2013, even if he might not be now), the GT riders (Schleck, Valverde again), the possibly dodgy riders (Vino, Hamilton, Valverde a third time) and even the sprinter/puncheurs who the climbers can’t shake (Gerrans, and, what the hell, Valverde). All of this is by way of saying you have two options:

1. Pick Valverde to win, at 9/4 odds (3.25) and accept a financial interest in an outcome that is boring at best, and which could be considered far worse.

2. Find a range of possible winners at big prices, back them each-way, and hope for an exciting and unpredictable race to keep you thrilled all day.

Any guesses which way this preview will go?

The boring details

First things first – the weather looks good. Dry and not too windy, but pretty cool. I can’t tell from the forecast whether the rain through this week and into Saturday will leave the course wet or slippery, but I assume not, except perhaps on the wooded climbs and descents.

The course hasn’t changed substantially on previous years and includes the final listed climb Cote de Saint-Nicolas, before heading into Ans (and an uphill finish). I am a big fan of this newish end to the race, which I think gives a range of possible outcomes. It’ll be interesting to see if the 2017 trend for long-range attacks continues, and as the peloton get more used to the new parcours, there’s a good chance of a more broken-up race than the last few.

This being a monument, all the riders you’d expect have confirmed attendance, unless injury prevents this. Chris Froome’s (somewhat half-arsed) attempt to add a monument have been unceremoniously ditched this year, but Sky bring a strong squad, as do Orica, Movistar, and Bahrain, among many others. It is always a loaded startlist and this year is no different.

We can expect decent coverage, though the UK at least will only pick up the afternoon coverage, because the snooker world champs have started in Sheffield. It is a close-run thing whether that is more or less exciting than the flat outward Liege-Bastogne part of the race. Follow the snark at PdC and be in your seat for the last 75km or so would be my advice. Oh, and there’ll be a PodCafst recording soon after that will bring you all the analysis that matters.

The market

The odds are here, and Valverde is favourite. Well, he would be and should be. It is pretty hard to picture a way this race could be run that would stop him being a leading contender. Still, 9/4 (3.25) is pretty short, and implies that he should win 29% of the time. That isn’t far off, but it doesn’t feel generous to me.

Of more interest is Kwiatkowski, a best-priced 6/1 (7.0, or 14% win probability). He is riding brilliantly this spring and is another one who could win from most sorts of races. Dan Martin is 7/1 (8.0, 13%) and I’m not sure what to think. He’s won this before, been in with an excellent chance on another occasion, and is riding well this spring. Still, it seems to me that his “one long kick” approach is getting pretty telegraphed, and I wonder if he’s sacrificed some of his punch in order to increase his chances of contending on the longer climbs.

Everyone else is 20/1 or bigger, which means a decent return for a place finish. As I say, the race is pretty open and I think you can find value on any rider you like. Rather than attempting an exhaustive preview, I’ll list the ones that I think offer the best odds relative to my perception of their chances. This is a race for lots of little bets at big prices. (It was option 2, if you were playing along at home).

The Picks

Rafal Majka – 200/1

This is, frankly, a ludicrous price. Majka hasn’t done much in this race, but he has a team working for him and the race is suited to his style as an aggressive, attacking climber. Although he’s known as a stage racer podiums in the Olympics and Il Lombardia show he can get it done on the day. Stamina for a long race has never been an issue and he’s got a team working for him. He doesn’t deserve to be a favourite, but if this field turned up every year for two centuries, he’d win more than once.

Michael Woods – 100/1

Unlike Majka, Woods hasn’t comprehensively proved he’s got the stamina for a monument. Nor has he got a team working for him. On the other hand, he’s in excellent form, is a very strong climber, and is this price purely because the odds compilers haven’t been watching him properly. Since about last September I’ve been hugely impressed. Nobody who saw the last road stage of Pais Vasco would have him at 100/1.

Petr Vakoc – 200/1

Quick Step may not have a plan for this race any more. Martin is obviously their number one choice atrocious form, to my surprise. Thanks to injuries, Gilbert won’t turn up. Add all this together and, even if we haven’t all forgotten Vakoc, the odds compilers have. Could easily do a Poels and move from lieutenant to contender if the races falls for him and has the talent to make some noise. Decent finishes in Brabantse Pijl and CEGORR suggest he’s in decent nick this season. Would be his first showing in a monument but at 24, the time is right.

Carlos Betancur – 400/1

Only kidding. Still, worth noting that he’s the same price (200/1) with some bookies as Vakoc and Majka. Man, gambling on cycling is silly some times.

Simon Yates – 40/1

Orica Scott seem to pick entire WT squads of guys who could go well in this race, and the 2017 LBL team prove the point – they’re loaded. Still, this Yates is my pick at a nice price. Of the brothers, he’s the one who has looked better in the longer races, and more than that, I was hugely impressed by his ride in the sixth stage of Paris-Nice, with a sharp finish towards the end. He is a clever tactical rider and a bloody good climber, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him up there.

The competition

So, those are my picks. They go into our competition in which, thank goodness, I’ve finally had a winner. Conor’s still winning overall, quite comfortably. He and Chris will doubtless add their selections ahead of this race. I’m going to have $12.50 each-way on each of my that big prices, and if any one pops up in the top three, I’ll increase my $100 total stake, whilst a win… well, let’s not jinx anything.

Enjoy the last great race of the year!