I strick out with Fléche-Wallone so I'm going to try again here with Liége-Bastogne-Liége. There's a lot of favorites so the best approach is to eliminate some then deal with the rest.
The new course doesn't favor Simon Gerrans and combine that with his inferior fitness so far this year due to his early season crash and despite winning last year he doesn't deserve to get on any top-5 lists.
Vincenzo Nibali is strong so far this year but he was no weaker last year since he won both the Italian national championship and the Tour de France. But in 2014 he finished 31st here and there's no reason to expect him to suddenly place top 5. He's going to try some sort of crazy attack but the race is so controlled recently that's only a long shot. So no to him.
Phillippe Gilbert was certainly strong at Amstel Gold but then he crashed hard enough to destroy his bike at Fléche Wallone. The older you get the harder it is to recover from crashes so while he says he's willing to start he's not going to win.
Joaquim Rodríguez last finished in 2013 when he was 2nd but he's also not at an age which is kind to annual improvement and I don't see him cracking the shell of favorites. He wasn't as strong as Valverde at Fléche, so I don't expect him to be as strong here.
Julian Alaphillipe isn't a favorite for some reason but he was in the lead group at Amstel and a remarkable 2nd at Fléche so how is it that everyone seems to be overlooking him for this race? He definitely to my view has a better chance than the above riders. He claims to train by doing 8 hour 300 km rides in the mountains: old school but well suited for the difficulty of this course. So he's on my list. The odds on him are around 50:1 and I think that's a very good bet.
Dan Martin has shown signs of strength this year but crashed at Fléche. He crashed out of a probable win last year and the year before he won. He's still not too old, certainly not by the standards of Valverde and company, so I like his chances tomorrow. Supposedly he wasn't bangled up too badly at Fléche so I'll go with him tomorrow, despite relatively weak team support from Garmin-Cannondale compared to some of the other teams.
I often overlook Valverde, perpetually thinking he's too old, but I'd have to be a fool to not recognize his strength at Fléche on Wednesday. His time up the Mur de Huy wasn't as good as the year before but the favorite had just put in what according to Strava data was a very hard effort on the new climb preceding it and then the group started the Mur relatively slowly in what was a tactical finish. For whatever reason the guy is crazy strong and he's already won this race twice.
Daniel Moreno is another Katuscha rider who shouldn't be overlooked. He was ninth last year and he was 5rd at Fléche on Wednesday, a race he won in 2013. I'm not going to put him quite in the top 5, though.
Michal Kwiatkowski was looking great after Amstel but something happened to him at Fléche and he finished well back. But he was a remarkable 3rd in 2014. The course is a bit tougher this year and perhaps the addition of the extra climb at Fléche softened him up. At Amstel he had a bit of recovery before that final assault on the Cauberg. But I can't dismiss his chances based only on Fléche. He cracks my top 5, despite the presence of his teammate, Alaphillippe.
I've got to pick a 5th. Tony Gallopin was strong at Amstel Gold. I'll go with him.
So I'm going with the following:
- Dan Martin
- Alejandro Valverde
- Julian Alaphillipe.
- Michal Kwiatkowski
- Tony Gallopin
Those are my picks.
Daniel Martin got whiplash from the crash on Wednesday, so it was a bit more serious than I'd understood. I'm not sure if this will affect his riding, though. Maybe not at all, maybe making it harder for him to get his head low, maybe he drops out. With this in mind he remains my pick but I'm not sure I'd recommend putting money on him.
I had a hard time picking between Gallopin and Bauke Mollema, who had been a pick for Wednesday. Bauke is more of a stage racer, while Gallopin seems more likely to pull out an excellent result in a one-day race.
Rui Costa has been mentioned as another threat. Maybe top ten, but not top 5, I think.