In less than a week, the 2023 Tour de France will get underway in Spain’s Basque Country. Starting in Bilbao, the Tour peloton will embark on a 21-stage journey that will feature plenty of challenging climbs of all different kinds – from punchy hills near the coast to Pyrenean and Alpine giants – as well as some flatter days and also a single time trial en route to Paris.
We took a look at the route with an in-depth preview just a few days ago, so now it’s time to dive into the peloton itself. Who are the favorites for yellow? Who are the outsiders? Who is going to challenge for stages, for green, for polka dots?
Read on to find out!
The GC battle
Let’s start with the GC picture, where the pre-race hype is deservedly focused on two stars, and then a very, very wide cast of characters hoping to play spoiler. Here’s what to expect in the battle for yellow …
The heavyweight bout: Vingegaard vs. Pogačar
With respect to the rest of the field, this sure looks like a two-horse race, at least barring some kind of catastrophe. Fortunately for us watching, both horses are hard-charging thoroughbreds who seem to be pretty closely matched.
Fans may actually be surprised to learn that, as of publication time, Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard, the defending champ, is the slightest of favorites with most oddsmakers, but it would hardly be a surprise if two-time winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) took his third title.
The biggest question mark is probably Pogačar’s fitness after a lengthy layoff due to a wrist fracture. He did win Slovenia’s time trial and road race titles in the past week or so, but the Tour de France they are not. If Pogačar’s back at his best, he and Vingegaard will be very, very closely matched.
They also have some similarities in their composition, as they are probably the two best climbers on the planet and both also pack a formidable time trial. There are, however, some differences; areas where each rider will try to gain an advantage on the other. Let’s take a closer look – and as we do, we’ll throw in some data visualization to make things clearer.
Using a highly scientific method called “asking some fellow Escape Collective analysts to rate Pogačar and Vingegaard from one to 10 across five different metrics,” we came up with some arbitrary scores for the two favorites on five of the big things that any Grand Tour hopeful needs. Here’s what we came up with:
Basically, we’re generally in agreement that Pogačar and Vingegaard seem closely matched when it comes to raw climbing ability and time trialing talent. Pogačar probably has a bit of an edge when it comes to explosive efforts and descents, but Vingegaard has a clearer edge in terms of his team support. As such, look for Pogačar to try to attack and hold his advantage on the downhills, and look for Vingegaard to leverage team tactics, which was an extremely successful approach last year.
Given how many opportunities there are on this route for these elite climbers to throw haymakers at each other, hopefully we’ll see some thrilling battles over the next few weeks.
The difference between the top-tier pair of contenders and the best of the rest is significant. Each of the next four riders on our list would already be secondary favorites behind the top two, and on top of that, they all have recent question marks in one way or another. They might as well be in a third tier with an empty second tier – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real contenders for the Tour title just the same. Who’s to say Vingegaard and Pogačar are going to enjoy a misfortune-free race?
The way we see things, the likeliest challengers are David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), and Enric Mas (Movistar). Every one of them will appreciate the fact that the route is light on time trials.
Gaudu, fourth last year, seemed like a good bet as a Tour outsider until the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he was way off the pace. Still, that was one event, several weeks before his major objective, and at Paris-Nice earlier this year he was second overall between Pogačar and Vingegaard.
Hindley is a bit of an unknown as a Tour contender. Sure, he’s a Giro d’Italia winner, but this will be his first ever Tour. Still, his Giro win came ahead of some big names (including one we’re about to mention) and he has a very strong Bora team backing him. Hindley seems like the rider with the highest variety of potential outcomes. If things go south quickly, it won’t be a huge surprise, but at the same time, he has the shortest odds to win the race of anyone not named Jonas or Tadej.
Carapaz will be heading up a new team this year at EF Education-EasyPost. He looked a bit all over the place for the past month, winning the Mercan’Tour Classic Alpes-Maritimes, looking great at times at the Dauphiné, and yet ultimately finishing way down in the standings. In any case, the Olympic road champ has experience and a solid team backing him.
Mas’s form has also been a bit hard to gauge this year. That said, the climbing talent will be well-suited to this route, and he’s no stranger to the Grand Tour leaderboard at this point, with an incredible three career Vuelta runner-up rides (and two top 10s in this race). Somewhat surprisingly, his team will be a bit of a question mark. After years of bringing very strong teams that generally failed to propel a leader to the win, Movistar has a solid leader in Mas but only a handful of good climbers to back him.
Beyond those big four, we’ll highlight three others with a shot: the fast-rising Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo), former Vuelta winner Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla), and his brother, UAE super-domestique Adam Yates.
Skjelmose is an exciting wildcard who is developing into a star before our eyes. After a promising Ardennes campaign, he just won the Tour de Suisse, relying on his fantastic climbing legs and surprisingly excellent TT. This will be his first ever Tour de France. Like Hindley, he seems to have the potential to smash it, but it would also be unsurprising if his debut at the race is just so-so.
Simon Yates will be making his sixth career Tour start, and frankly, his résumé should probably make him more of a favorite, except that he has tended to underwhelm at the Tour, and he also hasn’t done all that much against elite competition lately. Still, he’s a great climber on a climber-friendly route.
As for his brother Adam, this author sees him as one of the most interesting dark horses on the start list. He was better than everybody other than Vingegaard at the Dauphiné, and he knows how to shine on Basque roads, having won the Clásica San Sebastián early in his career. If UAE decides to give him his chances to apply pressure to Jumbo on his own, he could be a particularly dangerous attacker.
Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich), Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën), and the Ineos Grenadiers’ stable of Egan Bernal, Tom Pidcock, and Daniel Martínez are others who could have an eye on the GC battle.
The Escape Collective star ratings
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar
⭐⭐⭐: David Gaudu, Jai Hindley
⭐⭐: Richard Carapaz, Enric Mas, Adam Yates
⭐: Simon Yates, Mattias Skjelmose, Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, Egan Bernal, Tom Pidcock, Ben O’Connor
Our picks for yellow
Dane Cash: Tadej Pogačar
Caley Fretz: Tadej Pogačar
Abby Mickey: Jonas Vingegaard
Jonny Long: Jai Hindley
Ronan Mc Laughlin: Jonas Vingegaard
Stagehunters, green, and polka dots
Moving on from the GC picture, let’s look at the riders who are here for stage wins and possibly the other jerseys on offer.
After years of the Tour sprints being the preserve of just a handful of top stars, recent races have seen more names in the mix in the bunch kicks. That continues this year.
Two names stand out as the biggest sprint favorites, with another group just below that who will also be very much in contention. Let’s start with Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal QuickStep)
Champing at the bit to overhaul those two names will be the likes of Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Philipsen’s Alpecin teammate Mathieu van der Poel, Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Wanty), Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) and, of course, Mark Cavendish (Astana-Qazaqstan). Will Cavendish break the record for Tour stage wins? Only time will tell, but there are quite a few sprint opportunities and, as we just said, this does seem like a pretty open competition.
Yours truly thinks he’ll manage it.
As usual, Van Aert will be a contender to win every stage of the Tour for as long as he is in the race, but he has said that he may leave the race early as his wife is expecting their second child in July. If he stays in the race, he’s the green jersey favorite. Otherwise, it will be a much more open affair, with top sprinters Philipsen and Jakobsen and slightly more versatile Van der Poel and Ewan as potential contenders for the points classification in Van Aert’s absence.
On the more climber-friendly stages, Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal QuickStep) leads the way as a potential stage hunter. The Frenchman was back to his winning ways at the Critérium du Dauphiné after a quieter early-season campaign than he probably would have liked. Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) will also be one to watch basically any time the road goes up. Ditto for Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan), Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), and Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Those riders will also be among the big favorites for polka dots, though Pogačar and Vingegaard will be hard to beat there – especially Pogačar, who has the hunger to win everything he can, even including the less coveted polka dot jersey. Both times that he won the Tour de France, he also secured the KOM title, and as much as the likes of Pinot or Ciccone may be in the mix for mountains points, it won’t be easy overtaking the yellow jersey contenders for the polka dots as well.
Rating the teams
Before we close things out, let’s recap with another visual presentation! This time, we’ll examine some of the teams in the race as a whole. Again, some of us analysts here at the Escape Collective assigned arbitrary ratings across a few categories to a handful of the squads at the 2023 Tour. Then, we plotted our highly scientific “what we think they’re good at” data to visualize how some of the big teams are approaching the race.
The long and short of it? Jumbo-Visma will probably be in the mix every day. UAE Team Emirates will be all about the climbs. Alpecin-Deceuninck will be all about everything but the high mountains. Ineos has options for most stages but doesn’t have the same amount of firepower as we’ve seen in years past.
On the one hand, we hope this has been comprehensive enough to give you a thorough idea of which riders to watch at the 2023 Tour. On the other hand, the race will be all the more interesting if some of the hundred or more names we left out of this contenders’ guide decide to get their revenge on us by delivering results in the race. We’ll find out soon enough.
Bring on the Tour!
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