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With the 2023 Tour de France route revealed in Paris on Thursday, the attention quickly focused on the riders most likely to be on the start line next July.
The Giro d’Italia is set to have more than 70km of time trialing in 2023, while the Tour de France has opted for a far modest amount of just 22km.
The likely candidates to challenge for the yellow jersey include defending champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), two-time winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and Richard Carapaz (EF Education-Easy Post).
VeloNews takes a look at 12 potential GC candidates for the race.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma)
Tour de France pedigree: 1st in 2022, 2nd in 2021
There have been rumblings and suggestions that Vingegaard may turn his attention to the Giro d’Italia instead of returning to the Tour de France to defend his title. The last rider to do that was Bradley Wiggins in 2013, and that was down to the fact that Dave Brailsford couldn’t get the defending champion in the same room with Chris Froome, let alone get the pair racing together. However, in this current scenario, Vingegaard is the head honcho at Jumbo-Visma, and it’s his teammate Primož Roglič, with whom he appears to have no acrimony, who is most likely heading to Italy.
Whether the Tour route suits Vingegaard is almost immaterial given his prowess against the clock and his ability in the mountains. If he and Pogačar remain upright they’ll be duking it out in a two-horse race from the moment the race hits his first summit finish. If he’s fit, if he’s healthy, he’ll be at the Tour de France and looking to win back-to-back titles.
Tadej Pogaçar (UAE Team Emirates)
Tour de France pedigree: 1st, 1st, and second through three attempts
Pogačar was written off in some quarters after he dared to lose a grand tour this year but the fact remains that the Slovenian is the rider to beat when it comes to the Tour de France. If it hadn’t been for COVID ravaging his team, and some dodgy tactics that lead to him losing the maillot jaune, the outcome of the Tour could have been very different. No disrespect to Vingegaard intended.
When it comes to July, Pogačar will be on the start line and after missing out on a third straight title he will no doubt be looking for revenge. If he’s learned from his mistakes, and if he’s in the right frame of mind we could be looking at another annihilation. In Vingegaard he finally has a rider who can push him over three weeks, which means we could see a new level of unbelievable racing.
Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost)
Tour de France pedigree: 3d in 2021
Carapaz completed the Tour de France podium behind Pogačar and Vingegaard back in 2021, and the Olympic champion is likely to pass on the Giro and head back to the Tour for a second tilt at taking on the top favorites. In truth, his EF Education-EasyPost sponsors would probably settle for third on GC and a stage win for their major signing but Carapaz will have genuine designs on breaking up the Pogačar-Vingegaard dominance. He is likely to have a team dedicated to his services – that wasn’t the case back in 2021 — and with a number of strong time trialists heading to the Giro the route to success could be less complicated than normal. On paper Carapaz is below the top-two contenders but in the mix with the chasing pack. A lot can happen in the first week, and indeed the first six months of the season, but we could be looking at Slipstream’s first Tour de France podium since Rigoberto Urán in 2017.
Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Tour de France pedigree: Debutant
The Australian virtually ruled out defending his Giro title during the route presentation back in mid-October and with the Tour de France route more to his liking the chances of him heading to France look increasingly likely. He should have first dibs at Bora given his track record, although it’s possible that the team will also bring a sprinter for the race as they look to cover a number of bases. Hindley got the better of Carapaz in the 2022 year’s Giro, proving that his second place in 2020 was no fluke and it will be intriguing to see whether he can translate success in Italy to glory in France. Not every Giro winner has managed that feat, while fending off Carapaz isn’t the same as living with Vingegaard and Pogačar. That said, Hindley deserves his chance. He’s earned it.
Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step)
Tour de France pedigree: Debutant
All the indications are that the Vuelta a España winner will forgo the Tour de France in 2023 and instead target the Giro d’Italia. It’s a strategy that makes sense given the abundance of time trial kilometers Mauro Vegni has laid on for the young Belgian, and the fact that Quick-Step is probably another year, at least, from challenging UAE and Jumbo for domestique dominance. But Evenepoel will no doubt be watching the Tour route presentation with interest. It’s unlikely to be enough to tempt him into the Tour de France challenge, and the Giro is a target that makes far more sense in both the short and long term but ignoring the Belgian at this point would be a mistake. Come January, when he announces his grand tour plans we’ll know for sure.
Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco)
Tour de France pedigree: Two starts, one stage win
After concentrating on the Giro d’Italia every year since 2018 the time is right for Yates to ring the changes and take on the Tour de France. The Giro odyssey has not been without success but at some point the British climber was always going to need to reframe his season and breathe new life into a career that runs the risk of going stale. The timing feels right. The Tour de France is arguably a tougher challenge given the caliber of opposition but Yates could find himself competing for a top-five or even higher if he can navigate the first week and remain healthy. Even if that plan doesn’t work out, the climber can always fall back on his track record of noticing up stage wins. In terms of team depth, it’s not on the same level of Jumbo, Ineos or UAE but the Australian outfit regularly rises to the challenge.
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers)
Tour de France pedigree: Winner in 2019
After his horrendous crash it’s unclear as to whether we’ll ever see the best of Bernal in a three-week race again but there are waves of commentators willing to already write him off. A persistent one-liner that does the rounds is that ‘even Bernal from 2019 wouldn’t be able to beat Pogacar Vingegaard now’. That’s a rather sweeping statement considering just how explosive Bernal was at his previous peak, and the fact that, before his back and crash woes, he was a young 22-year-old who was only getting better. Before Evenepoel, before Vingegaard, and before Pogacar, it was Bernal who was anointed as ‘the next Eddy Merckx’.
Maybe we’ll see Bernal at the Tour, maybe it will be the Vuelta, but one thing is certain, and that’s that the Colombian hasn’t given up hopes of returning to the very top of the sport. He remains Ineos’s best chance of grand tour success — assuming Jim Ratcliffe’s check book isn’t enough to entice Evenepoel — and a major threat to the current GC candidates if he can regain his best form. It’s a huge ‘if’ but writing him off would be foolish. Perhaps Ineos has lost faith or they know something the rest of us don’t know with regards to his recovery but with time Bernal could still be the force he once was.
Romain Bardet (Team DSM)
Tour de France pedigree: Six top-10s, two podiums, three stages, and a KOM jersey
With so much time trialing at the Giro it looks increasingly likely that Bardet will structure his season around a Tour de France tilt. The small amount of time trialling at the Tour is ideal, while but the blocks of mountain stages that litter the race will be enough to entice France’s most consistent grand tour rider for a generation to the Grand Depart. He won’t win but he’s one of the leaders within the clutch of riders competing for a place from third to 10th.
Enric Mas (Movistar)
Tour de France pedigree: Two top 10s on GC.
The Spaniard has finished second in three editions of the Vuelta a España but one could understand his frustration with the reality that just as one grand tour generation slowed an even younger one came through and usurped him. At 27, Mas is far from ‘old’ but there’s no doubting that when it comes to three-week racing he doesn’t quite have the arsenal to deal with Pogačar, Vingegaard, and now Evenepoel. Although his late season form this season suggested that the tide could turn next year, with some much-improved rides. His team is still relatively robust, and if he can navigate the tricky first week, then another shot at the top-five is certainly possible. His 2022 season-ending suggests he could make the podium if everything goes perfectly.
David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ)
Tour de France pedigree: Fourth in 2022.
Like Mas, the Frenchman is a world-class bike rider in his mid-20s, and capable of some incredible performances. Unlike Mas, the Groupama rider hasn’t finished on a grand tour podium. That could well change in 2023 if Gaudu can prove himself to be the best of the rest behind the Vingegaard and Pogačar express. In 2022 Gaudu finished almost 14 minutes down on those two riders, and that’s an almost insurmountable gap. Most likely is that Madiot’s rider will jostle for a top-five, perhaps take a stage win, and vie with Bardet to be the top French rider in the race.
Dani Martinez (Ineos Grenadiers)
Tour de France pedigree: Won a stage in 2020.
We’re assuming that Geraint Thomas does indeed decide to race the Giro d’Italia, in which case Ineos would be left without a bonafide and ready challenger. Bernal probably needs more time to prove his resistance with back-to-back stage races in the spring, and it’s too soon for Tom Pidcock. Porte has quit, Carapaz and Yates have left and Tao Geohegan Hart couldn’t make the Tour team in 2022. So the question is whether the team would throw Carlos Rodriguez into the deep end or back Martinez, who after all, was meant to share leadership with Yates at the start of this year’s race. Martinez doesn’t have a grand tour pedigree like most of the riders on this list but he was super impressive when helping Bernal win the Giro in 2021. There’s a huge difference between being a super domestique of that level and challenging for a podium at the Tour de France but that’s the situation Ineos find themselves in. They’ve banked a huge amount on youth without having an immediate plan to challenge for a race they dominated for almost a decade. Time will tell as to whether that was the right call.
Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën)
Tour de France pedigree: 4th in 2021, and won a stage
Nothing went right for the Australian at the Tour in 2022 with a series of crashes and bad luck knocking him from pillar to post before he eventually withdrew. He deserves another crack at the GC, with a route that suits his qualities as a rider. The main priority will be ensuring that AG2R-Citroën can provide cover through the first ten days, and losing Bob Jungels to Bora is a massive blow in that regard.