Most of the hard work has been done and there is precious little time to conjure up form, condition or confidence for the 2023 Tour de France favourites. The big race, starting in Bilbao on July 1, is almost here.
That means it’s final tune-up time: the Critérium du Dauphiné has just finished in the Alps and the mountains of the Tour de Suisse are up this week for the WorldTour’s best.
As ever, Cyclingnews has its form ranking for the favourites, with regular updates through the season and into the Tour itself.
We rank the Tour de France contenders by their performances and as the months have now trickled down to scant weeks before the Grand Départ in Bilbao it's time to run the rule over the contenders for the maillot jaune once again.
- Team: UAE Team Emirates
- Age: 24
- Tour experience: Winner in 2020 and 2021, runner-up in 2022
- 2023 results: 1st at Jaén Paraíso Interior, 1st with three stage wins at Ruta del Sol, 1st with three stage wins at Paris-Nice, 4th at Milan-San Remo, 3rd at E3 Classic, 1st at Tour of Flanders, 1st at Amstel Gold Race, 1st at La Flèche Wallonne, DNF at Liège-Bastogne-Liège
It was a spring campaign for the ages from the voracious and versatile Pogačar. However, it ended unceremoniously when a fractured wrist at Liège-Bastogne-Liège led to several weeks off the bike, though he was soon putting in long indoor training sessions to compensate.
In late May, he went out to Sierra Nevada (later than his teammates) to do more preparation. He will head to Sestriere for a final bit of training and recon in the rarefied air.
It remains to be seen whether the injury affects him or if his glorious, tiring spring has any impact but Pogačar indicated that he’s not worried. The only races on his schedule between now and the Grand Départ are the Slovenian national time trial and road race, which may not give any big clues.
Pogačar will have to be at his best to beat Vingegaard, but revenge has likely been on his mind ever since the finale of last year’s race. You’d be a fool to write him off.
=1. Jonas Vingegaard
- Team: Jumbo-Visma
- Age: 25
- Tour experience: Winner in 2022, runner-up in 2021
- 2023 results: 1st with three stage wins at O Gran Camiño, 3rd at Paris-Nice, 1st with three stage wins at Itzulia Basque Country, 1st with two stage wins at Critérium du Dauphiné
With Pogačar out of racing sight and more out of mind, Jonas Vingegaard is the focal point for rivals and observers alike with his strength and ease. They’re so closely-matched, we’ve put the pair in equal first.
After a three-week altitude camp at Sierra Nevada, he passed his last test at the Critérium du Dauphiné with flying colours, winning a brace of stages and the overall, with the biggest winning margin since Charly Mottet in 1987. As if that wasn’t enough, after the race the defending champion indicated he can still improve.
Back in March, Pogačar got the better of Vingegaard at Paris-Nice. Both he and Pogačar have similar remarkable win rates this year but of course the Tour de France is the one that counts above all others. The form book and results suggest it’ll be their duel for glory. All roads lead to Bilbao and a renewal of hostilities between the two titans of the 2022 edition.
3. Jai Hindley
- Team: Bora-Hansgrohe
- Age: 27
- Tour experience: none
- 2023 results: 16th at Tour Down Under, 32nd at Cadel Evans Race, 13th at Volta ao Algarve, 32nd at Ardèche Classic, 53rd at Drôme Classic, 15th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 8th at Volta a Catalunya, 12th at Amstel Gold Race, 83rd at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 4th at Critérium du Dauphiné
Hindley’s season has shifted up a gear at the perfect time. Following finishes on the fringes at Catalunya and the Amstel Gold Race, he was among the strongest at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Consistency on the climbs at this mini Tour de France was off-set by one of the best time trial rides of his career, laying the foundations for fourth overall.
With Vingegaard and Pogačar looking like a cut above the rest, it is likely to be a fierce scrap for the third step of the podium. Tour debutant Hindley will have to get through the hubbub of the first week unscathed, but the 2022 Giro d’Italia winner appears to be in pole position to be the best of the rest.
4. Mikel Landa
- Team: Bahrain-Victorious
- Age: 33
- Tour experience: Five appearances, 4th in 2017 and 2020
- 2023 results: 7th at Volta Valenciana, 2nd at Ruta del Sol, 7th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 5th at Volta a Catalunya, 2nd at Itzulia Basque Country, 3rd at Flèche Wallonne, DNF at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 22nd at Critérium du Dauphiné
We’ve been accustomed to Landa lighting up spring stage races, showing his face at Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya and Itzulia. His steady run of stage race contention, however, came to an end at the Dauphiné. The experienced Basque knows what he’s doing and acknowledged he wasn’t in the best shape before the race. Not ideal, but he’s still on course for a high finish at a TT-light Tour de France.
5. David Gaudu
- Team: Groupama-FDJ
- Age: 26
- Tour experience: Five appearances, 4th overall in 2022
- 2023 results: 7th at Tour du Var, 2nd at Ardèche Classic, 4th at Drôme Classic, 2nd at Paris-Nice, 4th at Itzulia Basque Country, DNF at Amstel, Flèche and Liège, 30th at Critérium du Dauphiné
Gaudu was off the pace at the Critérium du Dauphiné in the mountains and against the clock. To boot, he copped social media abuse after a few stages. There’s no cause for panic after one poor performance for France’s big hope.
His spring campaign was strong, finishing next best to Tadej Pogačar at Paris-Nice. It also bears remembering that, though he won a stage, Gaudu wasn’t in the frame at last year’s Dauphiné GC either, and that preceded a career-best result.
6. Enric Mas
- Team: Movistar
- Age: 28
- Tour experience: Four appearances, 5th in 2020, 6th in 2021
- 2023 results: 5th at Ruta del Sol, 6th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 5th at Itzulia Basque Country, 17th at La Flèche Wallonne, DNF at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 17th at Critérium du Dauphiné
Mas looked like every bit like a Tour de France podium contender eight months ago. He matched his second places in the Vuelta and Il Lombardia with a fan-pleasing, attacking style.
Still, there was little of that on display at the Critérium du Dauphiné. Dropping three minutes to winner Mikkel Bjerg in the time trial was no big surprise; of greater concern was losing nearly that same amount to a flying Vingegaard on the race’s queen stage.
There’s clearly a bit of work to be done to make sure it’s a case of más rather than menos at the Tour de France. Mas will want to put his COVID-19 abandon of last year’s race well behind him.
7. Romain Bardet
- Team: DSM
- Age: 32
- Tour experience: Nine appearances, 2nd overall in 2016, 3rd in 2017
- 2023 results: 8th at Tour du Var, 11th at Ardèche Classic, 11th at Drôme Classic, 7th at Paris-Nice, DNF at Volta a Catalunya, 9th at La Flèche Wallonne, 15th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 7th at Tour de Romandie
Bardet is Mr. Steady of the stage races, rarely terrible or incandescent. The experienced Frenchman sat fourth overall at the Tour de France last summer until an off-day in the blazing sun to Foix put paid to his podium hopes.
COVID-19 in April didn’t seem to slow him down at the Tour de Romandie, where he was seventh. The Tour de Suisse will give more signs of how the weeks at altitude since have honed his condition.
8. Ben O'Connor
- Team: AG2R Citroën Team
- Age: 27
- Tour experience: Two appearances, 4th and a stage in 2021
- 2023 results: 6th Tour Down Under, 46th Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, 13th Tirreno-Adriatico, 14th Volta a Catalunya, 11th Classic Grand Besançon Doubs, 5th Tour du Jura, 50th Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 3rd Critérium du Dauphiné
The Australian climbs into our top ten after third place finish at the Critérium du Dauphiné, repeating his result from twelve months ago. Coming off an altitude camp, O’Connor was the surprise factor in the time trial, delivering AG2R Citroën’s first ever top-five performance in a WorldTour race against the clock.
Last year’s Tour was a bust for O’Connor, dropped on the cobbled stage and abandoning with a torn glute. The first week, with its hillier Basque Country start, may well suit the rider from Perth better as he hopes to improve on his landmark 2021 showing.
9. Giulio Ciccone
- Team: Trek-Segafredo
- Age: 28
- Tour experience: Two appearances, wore the yellow jersey in 2019
- 2023 results: 2nd and stage win at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, 5th at Tirreno-Adriatico, 7th and stage win at Volta a Catalunya, 5th at Flèche Wallonne, 13th Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 11th and stage win at Critérium du Dauphiné
After storming the Bastille in Grenoble for triumph on the last day of the Dauphiné, the little Italian surges into our top ten. Ciccone has talked of going for a Tour de France stage victory and the King of the Mountains this summer. Consistency has been his big problem in Grand Tours.
It could be different this summer. Ciccone has had three victories and barely been out of the top 10 in 2023, in spite of COVID-19 dumping him out of a Giro d’Italia team he was due to lead.
His self-belief will be sky high and he’ll be in a positive frame of mind, getting married weeks before the race. With few time trial kilometres in the 2023 race, a top-10 finish is within his reach.
10. Dani Martínez
- Team: Ineos Grenadiers
- Age: 27
- Tour experience: Three appearances, stage win and 28th in 2020
- 2023 results: 25th at Vuelta a San Juan, 1st at Volta ao Algarve, 25th at Paris-Nice, 34th at Itzulia Basque Country, 23rd at Critérium du Dauphiné
With the Tour on the horizon, there is no clear leader for Ineos Grenadiers.
Martínez has been targeting that spot since the start of the season, but the last day of the Critérium du Dauphiné likely knocked the Colombian’s confidence. He was the race’s big loser, losing 10 minutes and tumbling down the GC from sixth overall.
A simple jour sans or indicative of a bigger problem? The Colombian was flying on the way to first place at February’s Volta ao Algarve but hasn’t broken the top 10 on GC since. There are question marks over his ability to compete consistently over three weeks at the Tour.
Third with Geraint Thomas last year, Ineos Grenadiers are at risk of having their most peripheral Grande Boucle in years. But the kids could step up. Tom Pidcock, who starts at the Tour de Suisse, showed his off-road form in recent weeks, winning in Nove Mesto. Spanish champion Carlos Rodríguez’s ninth overall in the Alps eclipsed Martínez’s performance. It’s likely Ineos Grenadiers will have somebody in the mix, but it’s still a mystery who that will be.
Put out a search party for Simon Yates. The Jayco-Alula man has not raced since stomach problems forced him to abandon the Tour de Romandie on day Two. This summer, less is evidently more for the Briton. He is set to go straight from training at altitude to the Grand Départ. He was second at the Tour Down Under and fourth at Paris-Nice, but his form is an unknown.
EF Education-EasyPost leader Richard Carapaz was on the attack at the Critérium du Dauphiné and sprinted to a second place behind Julian Alaphilippe. The Olympic champion is flying under the radar a little; he’s not finished on the top-10 in GC since being runner-up at last year’s Giro d’Italia.
Neilson Powless showed his all-round power through Paris-Nice and the spring Classics, and he gives a potential other option for EF.
Louis Meintjes (Intermarché Circus Wanty) showed he’s ticking along nicely, finishing seventh at the Dauphiné. Cofidis captain Guillaume Martin was a few seconds and a place higher. Expect those two to be in the mix come July.
2019 Tour de France champion Egan Bernal also performed well in the Critérium du Dauphiné high mountains to finish twelfth overall. Given his knee problems this year, it’s surely too soon for Tour contention. Whether selected or not, recovery from his life-threatening crash appears to be going well.
Lining up at the Tour de Suisse, Sergio Higuita could be a back-up option for Bora-Hansgrohe, while Alexandr Vlasov – fifth last year – hasn’t raced for them since abandoning the Giro d’Italia on stage ten, due to illness.
The Tour de Suisse will also give a better indication of where Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan Team), top 10 in the past two editions, is at. His season highlight is Giro di Sicilia victory in April.
As for the Giro d’Italia giants? The word from the camps of Remco Evenepoel and Primož Roglič is that they won’t be at the Tour. It makes sense, but it’s a shame for the fans. The sport’s blue riband event also comes too soon for Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) who crashed out of the Giro d’Italia with a fractured hip.
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Formerly the editor of Rouleur magazine, Andy McGrath is a freelance journalist and the author of God Is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling’s Great Wasted Talent