Riding is Life


Paths to the Tour de France: Who’s racing where?

A guide to what the Tour favourites - including Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar - are up to in the build-up to July.

Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) at the front of the favourites group on stage 7 of the 2022 Critérium du Dauphiné. Photo: © Cor Vos

Kit Nicholson
by Kit Nicholson 03.06.2023 Photography by
Cor Vos
More from Kit +

We’re four weeks out from the Tour de France and 24 hours from the first of the ‘tune-up’ races, the Critérium du Dauphiné – it’s crunch time. In the next 28 days, the favourites will be exercising their legs, their lungs, and their teammates as they build towards the biggest race of the summer.

There are a number of paths to greatness, the most popular, for GC contenders at least, being the Dauphiné, which shares the same organiser as the Tour. The main alternative is the Tour de Suisse, while the Tour of Slovenia has lately entered the fight largely thanks to the nation’s prodigal sons who have risen to starring roles every summer since 2019.

Away from the GC contenders, the Baloise Belgium Tour is a hot favourite for the fast men, though team dynamics and the competitive environment of the hillier races are often major draws, even if there are limited opportunities for personal results.

So, who’s racing where? And, crucially, which rivals will be meeting one another (and who’s staying out of the way) as focus moves to July 1st?

NB. The Tour de Suisse doesn’t start until the 11th so the startlist is not yet complete. Check back for updates.

Jonas Vingegaard – Critérium du Dauphiné

It makes sense to start with the major Tour contenders, so where else than the defending champion?

Just like the past two years, Vingegaard is lining up at the Critérium du Dauphiné where he is expected to be head and shoulders above the other GC favourites. And in the absence of teammate and reigning champ Primož Roglič – who is slated for the Tour de Suisse, and not the Tour de France, after taking home the Giro d’Italia title last weekend – the way is clear for the Dane to take his first yellow jersey of the summer.

…and before they knew it, they were alone. Stage 8 of the 2022 Dauphiné saw Roglič and Vingegaard power to the line together, one wrapping up the overall title, the other taking his first win of a very successful summer.

“If I had to choose between the two races, it’d be 100% for the Tour,” Vingegaard said of the traditional pairing of Dauphiné-plus-Tour. “Normally, this race doesn’t decide the Tour. You might not be good here, and still, everything can change before July.”

After taking a thrilling first Tour title in 2022 and a strong start to 2023, Vingegaard is feeling relaxed and ready as he looks ahead to next month.

“It’s always hard to tell. I think my whole spring has been better, and there haven’t been any issues or sickness or anything,” Vingegaard said in a pre-Dauphiné interview. “But it’s hard to compare, and we’ve changed equipment as well, so it’s harder to say if I’m stronger.”

Ultimately, after a two-month break from racing, the Dane, now 26, is keen to hit the ground running and continue the good form he showed off in the Basque Country before a triumphant return to the Tour.

“The feeling I have now is one of less pressure, now I’ve won it once. Even if I never win it again and I retire in 10 years, I can still say I’ve won it and be proud of my career.” 

Tadej Pogačar – Nationals only

Pogačar’s route to a hopeful third Tour de France title is more unconventional than ever this year. After breaking his wrist at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the 24-year-old is in the unique position of being on the back foot in the run-up to his favourite race. And with his recovery likely to extend into the first weeks of the Tour, he’s missing his home race for only the second time since 2017.

Pogačar’s favourite June pastime is to take a mahoosive squad and blitz the competition – with games of rock-paper-scissors along the way – at the Tour of Slovenia.

“Unfortunately, I lost some training and couldn’t do much on the road in the last four weeks,” Pogačar said of the decision not to race the Tour of Slovenia during a press conference on Friday, “so I need to focus a little bit more on the intervals and long training outside.

“Normally I really like to have a race before the important race. But a Grand Tour is 21 stages and sometimes it’s good to be a little bit fresher. I’ll do the National Championship so two days of racing. You can always do some good training behind the motorbike and stuff like this to simulate races, so I’m not so worried this year.”

Ever the optimist – and usually for very good reason – Pogačar has not been back on the road for long, but still, he was back sooner than anticipated.

“First of all, I shouldn’t go on the road before six weeks, so I’m a bit stupid and I disobeyed the doctor’s orders,” he admitted. “I pushed the team and tried to go on the bike, but I knew that I couldn’t put too much pressure on the scaphoid.

“Obviously, I’m riding with a plastic cast that I can take off and on. Now I have a few different casts – one for normal life, one for the bike, and then one for when I’m almost at the end for a bit of support. I’m taking care every day.”

Pogačar will get his wrist looked at next week (as of press conference on Friday 2nd June) to be cleared by doctors before turning his attention to a training camp and key stage recon, alongside road and TT nationals.

“The wrist is getting better every day and I’m getting more and more mobility. When we see the scan, we’ll see if we can start to put more pressure on the hand and I think for the Tour maybe I’ll still need some soft brace around the wrist, just for a bit of support. I hope that I get the mobility to get out of the saddle and for sprinting before the Tour.”

Richard Carapaz – Critérium du Dauphiné

Joining Vingegaard in France is one of the few other Grand Tour winners on this list, Richard Carapaz, who bagged himself a morale-boosting win at Tuesday’s Mercan’Tour Classic, his first race since Itzulia Basque Country in early April.

Carapaz was a punchy, if unsuccessful presence at Itzulia Basque Country, getting involved in the attacks on the climbs but ultimately being forced out of the race on stage 5.

While the Ecuadorian champion will be hoping to re-find the form that saw him to the third step in Paris in 2021, he’ll also be continuing to put his new team to the test in the build-up to July. He does of course have a reliable domestique in Andrey Amador who has followed Carapaz around since sharing a team bus for the latter’s 2019 Giro d’Italia victory, as well as the sprightly Esteban Chaves who’s yet to be named on the provisional Tour startlist, but whose climbing prowess is likely to earn him a ticket to the mountain-heavy edition.

Egan Bernal – Critérium du Dauphiné

Speaking of Grand Tour winners, Egan Bernal is also headed back to France where he – not to mention everyone else – is hoping his upward trajectory continues after 8th overall at both the Tours de Romandie and Hungary. 

Whether he will be among the key contenders this week and in a month’s time remains to be seen, but based on recent results, and especially his resilient queen stage performance in Romandie, Bernal looks very like he’s graduated from just racing to contesting the bike race 16 months after his horror crash.

He’ll have the backing of Carlos Rodríguez in the Spanish national champion’s first race back after breaking his collarbone at Strade Bianche, and Ethan Hayter, who will be a protected rider for the punchy stages, alongside 2020 Dauphiné winner Dani Martínez.

David Gaudu – Critérium du Dauphiné

With Geraint Thomas taking a break after the Giro, the next best contender based on last year’s Tour GC is David Gaudu. 

While Pogačar rode away to Paris-Nice victory earlier this year, David Gaudu was best of the rest, or winner of the Best Human classification.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for the French riders at this time of year given eternal mutterings/wonderings as to ‘next French Tour champion’, but with only a hilly TT for his Achilles heel to confront at this year’s edition, this year is the best chance for a rider like the wiry little Breton.

As for his decision to return to the Dauphiné, I imagine he has little choice – or at least significant pressure – in making this his build-up with the backing of home team Groupama-FDJ, just as he has for the past four seasons. That said, it is happy hunting ground having taken a stage victory on last year’s punchy stage 3 ahead of Wout van Aert.

Other Dauphiné favourites

There’s one more Grand Tour winner headed for France this weekend in Giro 2022 champion Jai Hindley. The Australian chose the Dauphiné-Tour route over a return to Italy due to the favourable balance of road-versus-TT stages in France, where he makes his debut in both events.

Fellow Australian Ben O’Connor joins Hindley at the Dauphiné for a fifth attempt before taking on unfinished business in July, and like the vast majority of riders on this list, the routes for both suit the AG2R-Citroën rider.

Also excited about the relative lack of time-trial kilometres is Enric Mas, who has stacked up six top-10 finishes out of nine Grand Tour starts, three of them second places at the typically more climb-oriented Vuelta a España. Fellow Spaniard Mikel Landa will also have eyes on finally cracking the Tour podium via another crack at the Dauphiné.

With Pogačar one of few Tour leaders not heading to the Dauphiné, his domestiques get their chance to shine, most notably Adam Yates who climbed to victory at the recent Tour de Romandie. The Brit has the backing of loyal lieutenant Rafał Majka as both seek to display the team’s renewed dominance before July.

One of the riders who will have eyes on him at both the Dauphiné is 2021 Tour de l’Avenir winner Tobias Halland Johannessen as the 23-year-old – along with his twin brother – prepares for a debut Tour for himself and wildcard team Uno-X.

One to watch: Tobais Halland Johannessen finished 10th overall at the 2022 Dauphiné, securing the white jersey over WorldTour riders Brandon McNulty (+1:06) and Matteo Jorgenson (+3:15).

Away from the top GC contenders, Julian Alaphilippe is always a favourite at any race, French or otherwise, and as a key protagonist in summers gone by, there’s no writing off the former world champion, even if most of the drama he’s encountered this season has been in print at the hands of his team boss.

As for sprinters and green jersey contenders, Sam Bennett and Dylan Groenewegen join Ethan Vernon, Axel Zingle, Hugo Hofstetter and Matteo Trentin at a Dauphiné where flat finishes are as rare as sunshine at the 2023 Giro.

Quick-hit Dauphiné list:

Romain Bardet – Tour de Suisse

One of the more exciting climbing specialists, and Frenchmen, who is eager to be at his best in July is Romain Bardet, and rather than getting beaten by Vingegaard at the Dauphiné, the DSM leader is taking the Swiss route for the first time in his career (after his debut Tour de Romandie at the end of April).

Though the startlist is yet to be completed, Bardet is sure to be a top contender for the overall title, and what would be a huge boost before taking on the Tour, a race he’s had a turbulent relationship with since finishing second to Chris Froome in 2016.

That said, anyone hoping for a morale-boosting Tour de Suisse winner’s jersey in the run-up to the Tour has a significant world champion-shaped obstacle in their way as Remco Evenepoel is a confirmed starter – he will not, though, be going to the Tour. Really. (So they keep saying.)

Wout van Aert – Tour de Suisse

I know, I know – not a GC favourite. But we can’t not give green jersey and triple stage-winner top billing for the Tour de Suisse.

Red Bull gives you wings, or something… (stage 4, 2022 Tour de France).

Van Aert has never raced the Tour de Suisse before – last year he was part of the Jumbo-Visma squad that dominated the Dauphiné – but bookended by individual time trials (total of 38.4km) and, well, a full compliment of stages that would suit his summer 2022 form, I for one would put money on this man featuring in the top five, even making a play for the podium.

Vingegaard agrees.

“That would be hard, we saw Wout stepped up last year already,” Vingegaard said when asked if Van Aert might have more responsibility in the mountains with Roglič not in the lineup. “He was one of my best helpers. If he steps up (any more) he’ll be a GC contender instead.”

Other Tour de Suisse contenders

Winner of the famed Alpe d’Huez stage at last year’s Tour, Tom Pidcock is using the Tour de Suisse as his primer for further success in July. He’s said himself that that stage win is not equal to a GC tilt, but he’s still slated as a future hopeful, especially by us beleaguered Brits, and he’s yet to tell anyone that he’s not interested, so expect to see him flexing his consistency muscle while the more major players fight it out in France.

Jakob Fuglsang returns to the Swiss stage race with unfinished business after a strong performance, followed by defeat to Geraint Thomas, at last year’s edition, the closest he got to overall victory there since 2018. The two-time Dauphiné champion and once-top Tour favourite may benefit from being in the shadow of his younger Danish compatriot this summer as he looks to use his experience to add a fifth podium finish in Switzerland.

Top sprinters head to Belgium

Away from the mountains of France and Switzerland, the sprinters, green jersey contenders, and those vying for a 35th Tour de France stage victory, are heading for pastures flat(ter) at the Baloise Belgium Tour, 14-18th June.

This includes Alpecin-Deceuninck duo Mathieu van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen, both hoping to add to their singular stage win tally at their team’s home race, before taking the fight to Van Aert and co. at the Tour.

Among their rivals will be arguably the fastest pure sprinter on the planet, Fabio Jakobsen, along with Gerben Thijssen, Caleb Ewan, Alexander Kristoff, and Mark Cavendish, for whom this race was the harbinger of great things in 2021.

More to come on the Tour de Suisse and other paths to the Tour…

What did you think of this story?