The "Doyenne" of the Classics crowned two young champions on the roads of the UCI WorldTour and UCI Women's WorldTour: Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx), winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes, and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), who then claimed the men's race.
At 24 years old, the Dutch rising star claimed her biggest win so far thanks to a perfect sprint in a five-woman group after 140.9km of effort from Bastogne to Liège. Vollering (who already had a third-placed finish in 2020) benefited from stellar work by her team mate, UCI World Champion Anna van der Breggen, to take victory ahead of European Champion Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar Team Women) and Italian National Champion Elisa Longo Borghini (Trek-Segafredo).
As for Pogačar, he took his first Monument win after a thrilling finale involving five men at the front. The Slovenian star edged the UCI World Champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) with another Frenchman, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), close behind to complete the podium. Aged just 22, Pogačar is the youngest winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège since Bernard Hinault in 1977. He's also the first reigning Tour de France champion to claim the Doyenne in the following spring since Hinault's iconic victory through the snow in 1980.
"It's amazing, I'm so grateful they did it for me,” Vollering said, as tears rolled down her cheeks. “Anna van der Breggen was incredible. It was really hard on the climbs. We didn't want a sprint with Vos. It's my first year with SD Worx, and it's a dream.”
“I’m lost for words. I love this race, and to win here, against these great names, it’s incredible. I knew [Julian] Alaphilippe would go for a long sprint and I stayed behind him and I passed him in the end. It was the right wheel for me to follow. It’s incredible,” Pogačar said. “We were really disappointed [not to participate in the Flèche Wallonne] and we were really motivated today. We are really really happy. Now I can rest, spend some time with my family and prepare for the Tour de France.”
A masterclass from SD Worx
Luxembourg's Claire Faber (Andy Schleck-CP NVST Immo-Losch) and Italy's Silvia Zanardi (BePink) led the way in the women's race. They enjoyed a 3' lead with 90km to go but it wasn't enough to derail SD Worx's plans as Van der Breggen and her teammates controlled the race.
First they launched New Zealand's Niamh Fisher-Black at the front on the côte de Desnié (1.6km, 8.1%), with 40km to go. It allowed the Dutch powerhouse to leave the responsibility for the chase weighing on Annemiek van Vleuten's Movistar Team Women. The lone attacker was caught at the bottom of the mighty côte de la Redoute (2.1km, 8.9%), but her South-African teammate Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio kicked again, followed by Lucinda Brand (Trek-Segafredo) and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (FDJ-Nouvelle Aquitaine-Futuroscope). The leading trio opened a gap as wide as 30'' at the summit of the penultimate climb of the day, côte des Forges.
Pulled by the Movistar Team Women, the group with the main contenders bridged the gap just ahead of the côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons, the final uphill challenge inside the last 15km. That's where Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma), leader of the UCI Women’s WorldTour, cracked after a number of accelerations from Van der Breggen. Five riders went over the top in the front group and Van der Breggen gave her all to make sure the Vos group wouldn't come back, and that Vollering could sprint to glory.
The 107th edition of the men's Liège-Bastogne-Liège saw a group of seven riders lead the way for most of the day. Laurens Huys, Mathijs Paasschens (Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB), Loïc Vliegen, Lorenzo Rota (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Sergei Chernetski (Gazprom-RusVelo), Aaron van Poucke (Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise) and Tomasz Marcsynzki (Lotto-Soudal) enjoyed a lead of over 10 minutes with 150km to go.
The contenders survived the first climbing sequences of the day without too many issues before Ineos-Grenadiers put the hammer down with Tao Geoghegan Hart setting a blazing pace up the côte de La Redoute. The defending champion Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) followed at the front but Julian Alaphilippe was among the contenders caught off guard.
About 40 riders got back together with 30km to go but Ineos-Grenadiers kept pushing on the côte des Forges. Their Ecuadorian climber Richard Carapaz went solo with 22km to go. He held on to a 20'' lead at the bottom of La Roche-aux-Faucons... but Deceuninck - Quick-Step and UAE Team Emirates reeled him in 13km from the finish.
Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) followed with a strong move in the final part of the climb and only four riders managed to follow him: Gaudu, Alaphilippe, Pogačar and the evergreen Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team), celebrating his 41st birthday with a 15th participation in a race he has won four times.
The five attackers worked together until the final kilometre. At the front of the group, Valverde had to launch the sprint early but he couldn't hold on until the line. Alaphilippe flew past him but it wasn't enough to claim his first victory in Liège, as Pogačar overtook him on the line.