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To help get you ready to roll for La Grande Boucle, Matt has assembled his annual guide for who and what to watch for...
The 2023 Tour de France makes its Grand Départ this Saturday. For its 110th running, the biggest cycling spectacle of the year will spend the first three stages roaming the Basque Country of Northern Spain before crossing the border back into France to get the party started with the mountain stages.
If you binged the terrific new series Unchained on Netflix, you’ll be happy to know that this year’s edition of Le Tour is packed with storylines and you can watch the drama unfold in real-time over the course of 21 stages covering 2,115 miles in 23 days.
Who will win the Yellow Jersey?
Let’s get right to the final day in Paris, why don’t we?
Barring any unforeseen disaster, this year’s Tour will come down to a two-man race between defending champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) of Denmark and Slovenian Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates). Their one-two finish in 2022 flipped the results of 2021, when Pogačar won his second Tour in as many tries.
While the Yellow Jersey tally remains 2-1 in Pogačar's favor, the 26-year-old Vingegaard’s lead up to this year’s Tour shows all signs that his success in 2022 was no fluke and besting Pogačar a second consecutive year would cement their budding rivalry into the future annals of cycling lore.
Their biggest moment last year came when Pogačar, desperate to make up time, crashed in a corner during the final mountain stage and Vingegaard slowed to wait for him to pick himself out of the ditch and rejoin the race. On the surface, their handshake that followed was an incredible gesture of good sportsmanship but one can’t help but feel that Vingegaard subtly sent Pogačar a sign that he wasn’t threatened by him.
In an interesting twist, and one that makes this new generation of riders so much fun to watch, the 24-year-old Pogačar spent his spring dabbling in the Classics, winning virtually every race he entered before suffering a broken wrist during Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Despite continuing to experience some issues with his wrist, Pogačar claims it doesn’t affect him on the bike and his recent decisive road race and time trial victories in Slovenia’s national championships seem to back up his claim.
21 days of racing makes the Tour a race you can ease into as a viewer and be fully hooked by the time the fireworks start during week two. One interesting detail of this year’s route: each of France’s four mountain ranges gets a mountaintop finish, with Stage 6 featuring the Pyrenees, Stage 9 the Massif Central, Stage 15 the Jura Mountains, and Stage 15 in the Alps.
Stage 9, Sunday July 9 - The day before the first of two rest days on the Tour finishes with its first hors catégorie mountaintop finish of the race. This stage finishes ON A VOLCANO which is fitting since you can expect the GC to blow up on this day.
Stage 15, Sunday July 16 - 179km (107 miles) with a profile that looks like a mountainous buzzsaw, this stage is going to be bonkers, especially when it’s ahead of the Tour’s final rest day.
Stage 16, Tuesday July 18 - Stages after a rest day are always an adventure as riders can suddenly find themselves with dead legs. The only individual time trial of 2023 is a 13 mile, mostly flat romp. However, the course is very tricky which could turn out to be an unlucky 13 miles of misery for exhausted riders trying to ride at their physical and technical limits.
Stage 17, Wednesday, July 19 - If Stage 15’s profile is a buzzsaw, Stage 17 is the grill of a Great White Shark. The HC finish at Courchevel is going to be nuts.
Three Riders in their Final Tour
Mark Cavendish - Astana
Hard to believe the Manx Missile is somehow already 38 and in the twilight of a brilliant career. He enters his final Tour tied with Eddy Merckx for the all-time lead in stage victories with 34. Cav won the final stage of this year’s Giro and doing the same on the Champs-Élysées would be legendary way to call it a career but look for his Astana teammates to do all they can to get him that 35 stage victory before the Arc de Triomphe comes into view.
Peter Sagan - TotalEnergies
At the ripe old age of 33, the seven time Green Jersey winner is calling it a career - on the road at least. Look for Sagan to turn to mountain biking ahead of making a run at Olympic gold in 2024. He hasn’t won a Tour stage since 2019 when he won his final Green Jersey but this Slovak rider has always livened up any peloton he’s in so here’s hoping he has a little magic left in his legs.
Thibaut Pinot - Groupama - FDJ
Perhaps in another era, Pinot would have been a Tour champion but this beloved French cyclist’s career has been beset by bad luck and many podium-adjacent finishes. His best result at the Tour was third in the GC back in 2014. Since then it’s been a string of DNFs and finishes well outside the top 10.
HOWEVER, Stage 13 is an hors catégorie mountaintop finish practically custom tailored to Pinot’s combative riding style and it’s on Bastille Day so if there was ever a day the Cycling Gods would be on Pinot’s side, it’s going to be this day.
Five Fun to Watch First-Timers
Jai Hindley - Bora Hansgrohe
If anyone can disrupt the showdown between Vingegaard and Pogačar, it’s this 27-year-old Australian. Hindley skipped the defense of his 2022 Giro d’Italia title to focus on making his Tour debut. Earlier this month, he finished the Critérium du Dauphiné in 4th place and 3:16 behind a victorious Vingegaard.
Biniam Girmay - Intermarché-Circus-Wanty
While Girmay’s 2023 Classics campaign didn’t live up to the promise shown in 2022, the 23-year-old Eritrean outsprinted Wout van Aert and Peter Sagan to win Stage 2 of the Tour de Suisse. The flat and fast stages that are peppered throughout the race could provide an opportunity for Tour stage victory
Mattias Skjelmose - Lidl-Trek
This 25-year-old Austrian has been consistently turning in top 10 results during 2023 with his best finish being 8th overall at Tour de Suisse with a win in Stage 4. Gall returned the favor to GC winner Skjelmose, who pipped him at the line to win Stage 3.
At the start of the Tour, the Trek-Segafredo team will be known as Lidl-Trek thanks to a mid-season sponsorship change. The 22-year-old Skjelmose is fresh off winning Denmark’s national championship (Vingegaard did not enter) and could be poised to be the next Danish sensation as his recent GC win at the Tour de Suisse showed a lot of potential.
Felix Gall - AG2R Citroën
Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
Pick a rider. Any rider. This team of six Norwegians and a pair of Danes is making its Tour de France debut with a roster full of riders making their Tour debuts. Look for Uno-X to animate stages with go-for-broke breakways and who knows? One of them might even stick.
How to Watch
NBC’s Peacock streaming service is the most convenient and mostly only way to watch the Tour in the US. However, if you don’t mind skirting broadcast rights through the use of a VPN, the Global Cycling Network’s coverage is the best out there.