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Liege route changes: Stockeu out, Naniot in

The oldest race on the UCI WorldTour calendar is getting a facelift for 2016. ASO announced Tuesday that Liège–Bastogne–Liège won’t include the famous Côte de Stockeu, and instead it will add a hill in the final three kilometers, rue Naniot, which could spoil the day for sprinters like Alejandro Valverde but provide opportunity for someone like Joaquim Rodriguez.

The Stockeu, a brutal 1.1km grind averaging 10.5 percent, is home to an Eddy Merckx monument, honoring his record five wins in”La Doyenne.” It is a famous climb in the Liège route, sandwiched between two other tough hills — Côte de Wanne and Côte de la Haute-Levée — which will remain in the 2016 route. That said, those climbs were placed about halfway through a very long day (Valverde won the 2015 race in a time of 6:14:20), so they rarely produced the winner or winning group.

Rather than the grinding fatigue of climbs that stack up through the middle of the race, rue Naniot could present a springboard for an opportunist to attack and win the final Ardennes classic of the spring season. Often, Liège ends with a select group formed over the final three climbs. In 2015, about 15 riders went over the Côte de Saint-Nicolas together and then marked each other ahead of the final sprint. Coming immediately after Saint-Nicolas, Naniot is 550 meters long, averaging 10.5 percent. Best of all, it tops out with 3km to go. Surely, favorites like Rodriguez, Vincenzo Nibali, and other grand tour GC riders will be licking their chops.

Also on Tuesday, ASO announced seven wildcard teams for 2016, which will join the 18 WorldTour teams automatically included in the race:

Bora – Argon 18 (G)
Cofidis (F)
Direct Energie (F)
Fortuneo – Vital Concept (F)
Roompot Oranje Peloton (Nl)
Topsport Vlaanderen (B)
Wanty – Groupe Gobert (B)