Behold our knee-jerk, definitely wrong yellow jersey speculation

Guessing is half the fun.

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The Tour de France routes are here. Both of them. We get a week in and around the Pyrenees and a race up the Tourmalet forthe TDF Femmes and a mountainous, time-trial-averse trip through every single French mountain range for the Hommes. One race that seems tailor-made for Annemiek van Vleuten and another that opens the door for somebody, anybody, with the gall to try to drop Vingegaard and Pogačar going uphill.

The assignment to CT editors was simple: Briefly, tell us who you think will win each Tour. You get one paragraph to make your case.

We have no idea what will happen, of course. Nobody does. Even the riders don’t. But we have opinions, and guessing is half the fun.

Who will win the men’s Tour de France?

Jonny Long: The mere 22 km of time trial kilometres is a gift to both Tour de France fans and a certain, diminutive bespectacled Frenchman who goes by the name of David Gaudu. We love to see a course designed to try and help out the home heroes and the rest of the peloton needs all the help they can get if they’re going to topple Vingegaard and Pogačar. With few TT kilometres, Gaudu has as good a chance as he’ll maybe ever get to make the podium of the Tour. But wait, we’re in for a surprise. When Pogačar and Vingegaard crash after another hand-holding exhibition on stage 20, as they move figurative mountains to show once again what great sports they are, Gaudu sneaks past and gains the minutes back he needs. He sails unexpectedly into a yellow jersey that precipitates the biggest party the Champs-Élysées has ever seen. Gaudu celebrates with a bumper six-hour Twitch stream explaining how he managed it.

How many Tours are you going to win David?

Amy Jones: With loads of big climbs and a hilly time trial plus the fact that he has a point to prove after losing to Vingegaard this year makes Pogačar my fave for the TDF. I genuinely cannot elaborate, except that it’s certainly Nairo Quintana’s year.

[Way to stay on brand, Amy – ed]

Caley Fretz: Last time the Tour went up the Puy de Dôme, Eddy Merckx got punched in the kidneys and ended up slipping out of the yellow jersey, ending what looked like a likely run at six Tour wins and leaving him eternally tied with the rest of the five-win club. A timely reminder that the unbeatable always fall sometime and that the Tour has the capacity to serve up unexpected uppercuts. I expect a tightly contested battle between our two primary protagonists but with an unexpected ending. As Pogačar and Vingegaard stare at each other up the Col de la Loze on stage 15, newly-minted Frenchman Pavel Sivakov will sneak away and then descend like a madman into Courchevel, taking two minutes and 28 seconds back and slipping into yellow by 14 seconds. The French will have their first winner since Bernard Hinault, even if he was technically Russian until quite recently, and the party in Paris will be somewhat confused but still jubilant.

Ronan Mc Laughlin: There are two clear favourites in my books. Vingegaard and Pogačar. The course is almost irrelevant. Both can climb, time trial, and race with the best. While both squads are becoming increasingly stronger and experienced in Grand Tour success. Vingegaard looked unstoppable this year and at the tail end of the 2021 Tour. But the dedication and focus required to win a Tour certainly took its toll on the young Dane. He all but disappeared bar a few late-season races and openly admitted he needed the time away. I do wonder what the long-term toll such commitment takes on riders for whom it is not natural or easy. Bradley Wiggins is a prime example: Tour victory secured, he never again saw Grand Tour winning form. On the other hand, it all seems so easy for Pogačar. He smiled and nodded his way to Tour success two years in a row, taking countless other wins before and, crucially, soon after those laps of France. And while, incredibly, second at this year’s Tour is probably a low point for the young Slovenian, he bounced back weeks later with World Tour success in Canada and Lombardy. He races year-round, rarely, if ever, mentioning any fatigue. Being the best in the world comes naturally to Pogačar and, as such, it seems all the more repeatable. UAE Team Emirates has further strengthened its squad and Pogačar will no doubt be in a racing mood.

So obviously, Ben O’Connor will win.

José Been: We have a race across France with an undoubtedly completely crazy start in the Basque Country. Then from west to east with a record low of 22 kilometres against the clock. Gone are the times of 59 km time trials around Lac de Madine or Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France with 100 km of riding a time trial bike. One super short time trial diddy and done. This is the opportunity for the super climbers, the Sepp Kusses, David Gaudus and Ben O’Connors of this world. Nothing stands in your way anymore for eternal glory as runner-up in the Tour de France. Yes, because Tadej has learned how to lose, he was graceful in defeat, but now is the time to win it again. Bring the jersey back to Slovenia*.

*When all the planets align, the crash gods take a break and the universe is happy, there is always option B from Slovenia and it’s not Jan Tratnik. #TeamPrimoz

Kit: Both Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar will have to race in bubble wrap in the run-up to the Tour de France. We cannot have one without the other. If one falls ill or falls off, there’s a risk of the GC race being little more than a procession from the Basque Country and across France on a route that is curiously reminiscent of the demarcation line that separated the occupied and free zones in the early ‘40s… Anyway. On first glance, it does look like the ASO have made a conscious effort to at least somewhat level the playing field. In fact, in the modern era of time trial-bossing GC favourites, a Tour with so little time spent on the TT bike is as close to a ‘come and get it’ gesture as the French contenders can hope for. So. As Caley has probably already picked Thibaut Pinot, I’ll give the reinvigorated Romain Bardet a shot at winning the best non-alien classification, if not yellow. Which will be won by Pogačar because losing to Vingegaard this year was the best thing that could have happened to him.

Who will win the women’s Tour de France?

José: Yeah, it would be safe to say Annemiek van Vleuten will win the Tour de France Femmes. One super hard mountain top finish, a time trial and a team that is even better than this year’s but there are six other stages as well so I hope the rest of the teams won’t race for second place but go all in at every opportunity there is and then why not. Why not Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio or Demi Vollering? They won’t be teammates anymore next year so bring it on. 

Jonny: The Tour de France Femmes avec Annemiek van Vleuten winning once again. Personally, it would be great to see Literally Anyone Else win one of the Grand Tour stage races, but as we saw at the Wollongong Worlds, even the Dutchwoman falling off and fracturing bones can’t stop her. Instead, let’s just smile and wave until she’s done and then we can have some slightly more unpredictable predictions for the TDFF.

Dutch rider and winner of the Tour de France 2022 Annemiek Van Vleuten waves during the official presentation of the route. Photo by Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP)

Amy: This is a course that has Annemiek van Vleuten’s name written all over it. Lean into the inevitability of the world champion winning on the Tourmalet, and the Olympic time trial champion (same person) taking more time in the individual time trial on the final stage. Get the Movistar logo on your printers ready, ASO. Until she retires – and as long as the course features a long enough climb – Van Vleuten will reign at the Tour. Happily, for the rest of the peloton, that reign is only due to last until the end of next year, so, like this year, learn instead to appreciate the rest of what the race has to offer in the form of six other spectacular days of racing.

Caley: Whoever handles bike racing at the Ministry of Entertaining Sport tried a few different tactics this year. First, they made Van Vleuten sick at the start of the Tour. Didn’t work. Then, they broke her wrist at Worlds. Didn’t work there either. So it’s unclear what they’ll try next, and for Van Vleuten’s sake, we can only hope they don’t get too creative. My guess is an extremely untimely puncture in the Tour’s time trial, only to realize that the mechanic forgot a spare bike, leaving Van Vleuten to run the final two kilometers. She will win the Tour by only 1’45” as a result.

Ronan: It would take a brave, or perhaps foolish, person to bet against Van Vleuten taking a second win in as many years. The new World Champion took the overall victory in all three Grand Tour-adjacent races this season before taking the road world title despite carrying a hefty injury to her elbow. If Annemiek looked unstoppable at times before the 2022 season, she was actually unstoppable this year. I’d love to say the challenging terrain of the Massif Central could provide the unpredictable racing a team like SD Worx could capitalise on to put Demi Vollering into yellow. Or the might of Trek-Segafredo with Longo-Borghini, Spratt, and a returning Deignan, et al. might prove equally problematic for Van Vleuten’s Movistar squad to control, especially if rival teams could combine to strike an ambush, perhaps on the lumpy finish to stage four. But unfortunately, the two teams most likely best equipped to play such tactics are also the two most likely to be focused on delivering bunch sprints for Weibes and Balsamo, indirectly playing into Van Vleuten’s hands with the Tourmalet and time trial looming. Let’s all hope I am wrong, not to ensure a new winner, but to ensure enthralling racing regardless of the winner.

Kit: The Femmes route looks like another imaginative series of varied stages that will hopefully see a handful of different winners throughout the race. There’s only one massive mountain day in 2023, which is an interesting – and understandable – move presumably designed to hobble the defending champion. Even so, I can’t see past the incredible talents of Annemiek van Vleuten who will put a couple of minutes into her closest rivals on the mighty Tourmalet. That’s if she’s there, her injury record is almost as long as her palmarès at this point, although even that may not stop her.

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