Riding is Life


Tour de France Anonymous: Riders and directors predict the winner

Who’s going to win the 2023 Tour? We asked a selection of riders and directors for their thoughts on who takes yellow, where, and why.

Everyone on our pro panel expects either Jonas Vingegaard or Tadej Pogačar to win the 2023 Tour, but where and how exactly finds less agreement. Photo © Kramon

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 30.06.2023 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
More from Joe +

Unless you’re prescient at predicting the most unlikely of grey-swan events, the 2023 Tour de France looks like a battle royale between defending champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and the two-time winner he unseated, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). That said, it’s always possible neither of them finishes in yellow. Even if one does, how do they unlock the puzzle of both the route and the competition?

We asked those questions of a small panel of experts from inside the sport: two active, veteran WorldTour pros with 20 Grand Tours between them, and two senior directors with two dozen Tours de France behind the wheel of the team car.

We took it a step further in granting them anonymity so they could be candid in their predictions and assessments. Here’s what they told us:

(Note: Three of the four exchanges happened before national championships weekend, where Tadej Pogačar won both the Slovenian road and TT titles.)

The picks

Rider 1: Jonas Vingegaard – The clear favorites are Tadej and Jonas, but they’ve had completely different buildups. The elephant in the room is Tadej’s crash. How much has he lost in training? It’s hard to know. You can ride indoors, but I think it’s hard to prepare to win the Tour indoors.

Rider 2: Jonas Vingegaard – Jonas is the biggest favorite as he has proved in the races this year he’s up for the task. There’s also a small question mark as to how well Pogačar will be after not racing for quite a while, but it looks to me like Jonas has been working on his weaknesses, and can really count on his team to support him as well.

Director 1: Jonas Vingegaard – While Pogačar is more talented, his prep has been disrupted and his team is less organized. The one thing that makes me hesitate is I’ve seen a few times this year when a rider has a long period of indoor-only training, they come out really strong.

Director 2: Tadej Pogačar – I think Pogačar will win the Tour de France.

What’s the most important aspect of the course?

Rider 1: This year the Tour starts with a bang. No long, flat sprint stages, where you ride around 150 watts and spend the last hour super stressed hoping to not crash or lose time. You need to be there from stage 1 to stage 20 if you’re there for the GC.

Rider 2: It’s quite a tough first few stages so you can’t really ease into the race. You’ve got to be sharp from the start. That’s going to advantage guys who did well in the Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse. But definitely stages 13 to 17 are going to be all proper GC days. The TT post-rest day is also quite interesting as some guys don’t do super well post-rest day. Stage 20 is well made for some big moves if guys are willing to risk it proper.

Director 1: The TdF this year is all about climbing. Being a consistent climber for all three weeks, stage 1 to the end, will be the key factor.

Director 2: I think the start really suits (Tadej), and so maybe he already takes some time in the first days, especially stage 1.

As Pogačar showed at last year’s Tour and this year’s Ardennes Classics, he’s uniquely suited to shorter, punchier climbs like those seen in the Tour’s opening week. Photo © Kramon

What separates the winner from the rest?

Rider 1: I had read from the Jumbo camp that Jonas’s light race program was with the TdF in mind. The reasoning behind the light race days was to give him more time to do aerobic training, the theory being that the bigger aerobic base would facilitate a longer peak of form, which given the parcours this year is important. 

Tadej’s buildup was something of the opposite, and mirrors his style of racing in some ways, but also the management at UAE. He was racing a lot this spring, and going from win to win. If we were to be critical of how Tadej rode the Tour last year, we’d say he was too confident, too aggressive. To me, his race program this year, which obviously comes mostly from the team, felt similar to that attacking, aggressive style: from race to race, always to win.

I always had the feeling that Tadej didn’t need to train a lot to be at his best. It seems so easy for him. While other guys hunker down like monks, for months, he just seems like a kid who rides his bike, without being overly prescriptive or specific, and comes out and kills everyone. I don’t remember seeing anyone like him.

That being said, given how the Tour starts with hard racing from day one, and the race hits the Pyrenees in the first week, I have a hard time believing that given his injury Tadej wouldn’t be on the back foot to some degree in that first week. This year, that first week really matters. I think that sets the tone for the Tour this year, and that’s why Jonas is my pick.

Rider 2: To me it looks like Jonas has been working on his weaknesses and can really count on his team to support him as well. Legs will be the deciding factor in the end. With so many consecutive GC days there will be no place to hide. A strong team will help you have those legs by that point. And stage 20, if you’re behind you have the chance to pull off something with teammates as well.

Director 1: Since the Tour is going to be all about consistently climbing well, I think it’s the rider who can always be in the front group without having to go too deep in the red to be there. Explosivity will look great the first 10 days, but there will be a price. I think this is a different Tour. It’ll be about not losing time, each day, rather than gaining a bunch of time in a knockout punch.

Director 2: Again, the start really suits Tadej and I think the last bit is also better for him. If he takes the early lead and the bonuses and controls a bit [he’s got it], that’s my thinking.

What did you think of this story?