Julian Alaphilippe’s hot form suggests he can thwart Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde’s bid for a record-equalling fifth Liege-Bastogne-Liege crown at cycling’s oldest, and some say, toughest Monument on Sunday.

There is a world class field for the 104th edition of this relentlessly challenging test of stamina with its 258km of narrow, winding roads known as “The Old Lady”.

Movistar’s Valverde, winner in 2006, 2008, 2015 and 2017, would appear to have the teammates, the deep well of experience and indeed the stamina to clinch one more victory and equal Eddy Merckx’s record of five wins.

The Spaniard, who is 38 next Wednesday but says he will race until the Tokyo Olympics of 2020, dug deep at the Fleche Wallone in midweek in a desperate bid to haul back Quick Step’s Alaphilippe. 

The 25-year-old Frenchman just held on to win his first classic, hinting at a generational changing of the guard.

“He won because he was better,” Valverde told the Belgian press. “But If I have my nose in front with 250m to go on Sunday, no-one will stop me.” 

Valverde won this event last year, latching on to a Dan Martin breakaway and outsprinting the remaining challengers.

Martin is hoping to get his first win since joining the UAE team this year.

“It hasn’t been a fairytale start, but I feel really good and after getting caught behind a split at the Fleche I’ll have more energy. You pay for everything on a long race like this,” said the Irishman looking for his second win on this race.

Another rival is Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski who is still only 27 but has won six classics already and was the 2014 world champion.

When Alaphilippe won by a wheel at the Fleche Wallonne he dispelled the feeling that he had been falling short of expectations.

“It just took me time to learn the patience to wait for the right moment,” said the French favourite.

World time-trial champion and defending Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin is on the starting list, a huge boost to Sunweb teammate speedster Michael Matthews, who was fifth in the Fleche and seventh at Milan-SanRemo.

Dylan Teuns will lead the BMC Team who are mourning the loss of their owner, Swiss magnate Andy Rihs, who died this week aged 75 and for whom a minute’s silence is expected to be held Sunday. – Agence France-Presse

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