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With the 2023 Tour de France route finally unveiled in Paris last week, talk has already shifted to the list of possible contenders for the yellow jersey.
Top of most lists are the last two winners of the race, Jonas Vingegaard, and Tadej Pogačar, but while that pair share the majority of the spotlight, Ineos Grenadiers believes that they too can have a say in the final outcome of the race.
It’s still unclear as to who will line up for the British team on July 1 when the race sets off from Bilbao but a combination of Egan Bernal, Tom Pidcock, and Dani Martinez seems the most likely at this point.
Geraint Thomas, who won the race in 2018 and was third behind Vingegaard and Pogačar in 2022, has already hinted at a return to the Giro d’Italia in his final season, while Adam Yates and Richard Carapaz have both left the team for pastures new.
Also read: The full 2023 Tour de France race route
Steve Cummings has analyzed the 2023 route over the last few days and believes that Ineos has the capacity to mount a realistic GC challenge, while also chasing stage wins. He stopped short of confirming any leadership candidates and instead pointed to the depth within the team.
“What I do see are lots of opportunities within that Tour route for us,” he told VeloNews.
Most of Ineos’ grand tour planning will take place over November and December during scheduled training and management camps. One key discussion will focus on how the team can close the gap between themselves and the two most dominant stage racers in the world right now.
“We have to race to try and win, find out what the gap is between the others, and work as hard as we can to close it. Ideally, we want to win the race overall but if we can’t then we need to sustain a GC challenge right to the end and try and win the stage every day,” Cummings added.
“It’s about winning and ultimately we want to win. We have to try to win. If we can’t win the GC then it just gives us opportunities to win stages. 100 percent we can mount a strong challenge. We did it this year, and we can do it again, albeit with a different rider. Although Geraint might do it again.”
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“I think that we have riders who can challenge. From the data, we’ve got a few who can climb not a million miles off the top two. It’s about closing that gap and that comes down to the whole performance support team, coaches, directors, and riders. Maybe there are some training and nutritional improvements that can be made and then we try to apply that to the riders. Dani, Egan, and we have Carlos Rodriguez. He had a solid Vuelta, but obviously, the Tour is a massive step, and I don’t know if that’s the path he’ll take or if he heads to the Giro. Maybe one of the young guys can take a big step too.”
Bernal has already indicated that he would like to return to the Tour de France. He has not taken part in the race since abandoning it in 2020. He won the Giro d’Italia the following year and then suffered a life-threatening training crash that effectively ended his grand tour hopes during this campaign.
The Colombian returned to racing at the tail-end of this year but is still firmly focussing on regaining his full fitness and strength. Ineos has given its star grand tour rider time and space and they are not willing to put additional pressure on his shoulders. That said, the 2023 route is well-suited to the 2019 winner. Cummings believes that Bernal can come back to the level he was once at but that time is still needed before any Tour plans can be ironed out.
“It would of course be a fantastic Tour de France if Bernal was in his best shape ever but we don’t know yet if he can get there. If anyone can, then he can. We just have to see and they are the questions we need to ask. He’s probably ahead of schedule but it’s still a long way to go. On paper, it’s a really good Tour for him but we’re not going to put added pressure on a rider who has had a life-threatening crash,” Cummings said.
Whatever the final leadership decision is on the team, Cummings has pinpointed the first few days in the Basque Country, and the tough final week in the mountains as the key battlegrounds that will decide the overall standings.
“It’s going to be super exciting racing in the Basque Country and the first three days have a lot of climbing with around 3,000m of ascents,” he said.
“It’s not a typical Tour de France start but it’s going to be chaotic. We’ll see reduced groups coming to the line but I used to love racing in the Basque Country. With the race then heading into the Pyrenees we’re going to get some real definition in the GC early on. The race will still be won or lost in the final week with some filthy climbs across stages 14, 15, and 17. I don’t think that the Tourmalet will be that decisive unless someone has a really bad day or the GC riders attack early. That’s definitely a possibility.”