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Death, taxes, and Tadej Pogačar dominating a bike race: What we learned as Pogačar and Grace Brown win Liège-Bastogne-Liège

From 35km solo attacks and unflinching dominance to a dramatic, nail-biting sprint finish, the men’s and women’s editions of La Doyenne served up two very different storylines this year

The snow that settled this week upon the highest points of the Ardennes may have melted, but fans were still treated to spectacle, drama, and dominance worthy of Bernard Hinault’s wintery 1980 triumph at Liège-Bastogne-Liège today, as Tadej Pogačar and Grace Brown took the plaudits following two very different editions of La Doyenne.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Pogačar’s race-winning attack at the foot of La Redoute, with 35km left to go of this year’s fourth monument, is that we were in any way surprised by it.

The rampaging Slovenian has long showcased his soft spot for long-range exploits, but this year has taken things to a whole new level, winning Strade Bianche and now the oldest classic calendar courtesy of devastating solo raids. And that’s before he tries his hand at becoming the first male rider in 26 years to crack the Giro-Tour double.

2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège Femmes (A.S.O./Billy Ceusters)

(A.S.O./Billy Ceusters)

And in a narrative we’re becoming increasingly used to this year, while the finale to the men’s race saw us fixated on the battle for third (especially after Romain Bardet secured second with a perfectly timed and executed move), the women’s race was a pulsating, frenetic affair right to the death, with Grace Brown overhauling Elisa Longo Borghini at the line for a long-awaited Liège victory.

Here’s what we learned from two very different races held on the same day, on the same hilly course in Wallonia…

Tadej Pogačar, 2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

(Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Pogačar isn’t the new Eddy Merckx, Eddy Merckx is the old Tadej Pogačar

The cobbled classics campaign may have belonged, indisputably, to world champion Mathieu van der Poel.

But it’s becoming increasingly hard to argue that, with an attempt at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double still to come, Tadej Pogačar isn’t the male rider of 2024 so far. And he’s pinned on a number a mere ten times this season, to boot.

The stats speak for themselves. Here’s a rundown of the Slovenian superstar’s ten race days and results in 2024:

Strade Bianche: 1st

Milan-Sanremo: 3rd

Volta a Catalunya, Stage one: 2nd

Stage two: 1st

Stage three: 1st

Stage four: 25th

Stage five: 31st

Stage six: 1st

Stage seven: 1st

Liège-Bastogne-Liège: 1st

And while the bare figures tell a bewildering, staggering tale of dominance, they also miss the crucial detail of the dominance Pogačar has exerted during those wins.

The devastating, possibly era-defining 80km solo raid at Strade Bianche, the casual imperiousness of those Catalunya victories, and the calculated precision of today’s unstoppable attack on La Redoute, teeing up the biggest winning margin at La Doyenne since Bernard Hinault’s infamous ride through the snow in 1980.

Tadej Pogačar, 2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

(Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

And though that nonchalant tendency to break records has been visible since Pogačar’s breakthrough Vuelta ride in 2019, the sheer historic weight of the UAE Team Emirates star’s achievements is becoming ever more apparent.

Thanks to his second Liège win, the 25-year-old is now on level terms with Van der Poel when it comes to monument victories, six apiece (Pogačar also has two Strade Bianche wins to the Dutchman’s one), a staggering stat considering the classics, on the road at least, are Van der Poel’s raison d’etre.

For Pogačar, the spring and autumn one-day races merely form the starter and dessert for a season usually centred on attempting to win the grand tours, yet he still hoovers them up with apparent ease.

Cannibal-esque, indeed.

The ‘is cycling becoming boring’ debate is becoming, well… boring

Within seconds of Pogačar’s race-winning move on La Redoute, as Richard Carapaz quickly and decisively wilted in his wake, social media was flooded with the kinds of posts that are becoming as predictable as the Slovenian’s long-range salvos.

‘Yawn’… ‘Here we go again’… ‘It’s boring how good he is’.

One viewer even considered changing the channel to the Manchester United v Coventry City FA Cup pre-match programme.

2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

 (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

But with Pogačar, Evenepoel, and Van der Poel showing no signs of turning their backs on the race-stifling, long-distance moves that have become their trademark (race-stifling until they race each other, that is), we’re all going to have to get used to debating whether men’s cycling is becoming ‘boring’.

Let’s face it – every generation’s dominant riders got flak for being too good, for killing the suspense that is so integral to professional cycling’s model of entertainment.

In the 2000s, we had the shock and awe of Lance Armstrong and US Postal. In the 2010s, it was the Sky train. Now we’re in the era of old-school, race-killing mega moves.

I know which one I’d pick.

SD Worx’s reign is over… for now

Grace Brown wins 2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (A.S.O./Billy Ceusters)

(A.S.O./Billy Ceusters)

While the men’s race had an air of inevitability around it (and the occasional snow shower), the women’s Liège was anything but predictable.

In a frantic final kilometre, two stars of the spring – Tour of Flanders winner Elisa Longo Borghini and redemptive Flèche Wallonne hero Kasia Niewiadoma – were locked in a ferocious pursuit match, only for Italian champion Longo Borghini to be pipped by a late-surging Grace Brown.

Twice a runner-up at Liège, Brown – who spent around 70km up the road in the break and pulled off a spectacular save after overshooting a roundabout with six kilometres to go – finally reached the top step of the podium with her well-timed sprint, becoming the first Australian woman to win the Belgian monument, and the first Australian in general to win Liège since Simon Gerrans in 2014.

Meanwhile, behind Brown and Longo Borghini, Demi Vollering finished third, in what could be argued is a fitting microcosm of SD Worx’s (relatively) stuttering season so far.

Demi Vollering, 2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (A.S.O./Billy Ceusters)

(A.S.O./Billy Ceusters)

At this point last year, the all-conquering Dutch team had won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, Dwars door Vlaanderen, the Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs, Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Of those, only Gent-Wevelgem and Scheldeprijs (through Lorena Wiebes) and Strade Bianche (Lotte Kopecky) have been defended, as a resurgent Marianne Vos, along with Longo Borghini and Niewiadoma, established themselves as the stars of the spring.

Of course, SD Worx shouldn’t worry too much – Kopecky did after all add Paris-Roubaix to the collection in the rainbow jersey – and Vollering will be licking her lips at the stage racing to come. But, with Vollering set to leave at the end of the year and the unyielding dominance of 2023 fading rapidly, could we be witnessing the end of an era in women’s cycling?

Even when MVDP is bad, he’s still pretty good

Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel, 2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

(Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

It must be tiring bending cycling’s biggest cobbled monuments to your will. At least it seemed that way for Flanders-Roubaix double winning world champion Mathieu van der Poel today.

The big Dutchman, hindered by being caught behind a bunch-splitting crash at a crucial moment, spent most of Liège closing gaps opening up ahead of him as UAE Team Emirates, and then their imperious leader, piled on the pressure on each of the oldest classic’s 11 climbs.

But that didn’t stop Van der Poel dragging himself, and a few others, back up to the group trailing in the wake of Pogačar and fellow climbing ace Romain Bardet, before promptly leading out and winning the sprint for third, on one of the hilliest days of the cycling calendar, and at the very end of a career-defining classics campaign. Not bad.

Bernal’s back

Egan Bernal, 2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège (A.S.O./Gaëtan Flamme)

(A.S.O./Gaëtan Flamme)

Just over two years after his horrific career and life-threatening training crash into the back of a parked bus, Egan Bernal’s encouragingly linear road to recovery now appears almost complete.

On a race you wouldn’t necessarily have earmarked for the Colombian Ineos Grenadiers rider even back in his 2019 Tour-winning heyday, Bernal looked sharp throughout, navigating his way through the crashes and pre-climb nerves, before launching a series of stinging attacks on the Roche aux Faucons.

He eventually finished 21st, the lack of a sprint ensuring that, but this promising April performance – combined with his consistent, podium-gaining rides in this season’s early stage races – bodes well for Bernal’s ambition to return to his pre-crash grand tour contending form.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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3 comments

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dpl | 1 month ago
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Fleche Wallone was a great, enthralling race.  Liege, once Pogacar made his inevitable attack, just petered out.  I'd rather watch some lower tier races without these superstars in them tbh - far more exciting.

The default mode of the peloton seems to be to throw the towel in once the attack comes.

Just hope someone can challenge him in the major tours.

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ErnieC | 1 month ago
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What a fantastic and talented cyclist, pity about the team he rides for. 

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dubwise replied to ErnieC | 1 month ago
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You could say that about most of the teams.

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