The Tour de France is about to start. It may just be the most complicated pro race to win, but most will have that hope, we analyze five riders which enter the race under the radar but have chances of achieving great success.
Nº5 - Jordi Meeus
Jordi Meeus has already been approached in our analysis of riders with something to prove, and is equally a rider to follow during the race results wise. He comes in as a last-minute substitute for Sam Bennett. Whilst many will look into the BORA - hansgrohe lineup and have the Irishman's absence and Jai Hindley in the lead to focus, the Belgian has here a gold opportunity to prove his worth, and assert himself as the team's new head sprinter.
Meeus is a rider who doesn't yet have a win at World Tour level but has proven on many occasions to be able to sprint with the best. What makes him such an interesting rider to follow here is that BORA have brought their best leadout men into the Tour and amidst what are expected to be chaotic sprints, the Belgian fast man could actually find himself winning at the Tour de France, whilst a lot of the attention will be on the likes of Jasper Philipsen, Fabio Jakobsen, Mark Cavendish and Wout van Aert.
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Nº4 - Maxim van Gils
Lotto Dstny have put most of their chips in the sprints as they look to back Caleb Ewan into a first Grand Tour win in over two years. Away from those responsibilities is Maxim van Gils. As is the case with other Belgian teams Alpecin-Deceuninck and Soudal - Quick-Step, the team does not bring climbers, it focuses on it's sprinters whilst providing it's puncheurs and classics riders freedom to chase wins, mostly through breakaways. Van Gils is a good example of that, the 23-year old will make his debut at the Tour and will be a contender for a stage win, mostly in the hilly days.
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Although he abandoned the Criterium du Dauphiné early on, he finished fifth in the opening two days. He was also fourth in the opening day of the Volta a Catalunya where Roglic and Evenepoel sprinted against each other. Over other hilly races he's consistently performed throughout the year. He also rode to seventh at Amstel Gold Race, eighth at Flèche Wallone and 11th at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He could prove to be Lotto's best weapon if he's used right.
Nº3 - Phil Bauhaus
The second sprinter on the list is Phil Bauhaus. Bahrain - Victorious have not selected the German by chance into it's Tour lineup, it was a planned move. Bahrain is an interesting lineup as it has four climbers headlined by Mikel Landa and Pello Bilbao who will want to fight for a high GC, then two brilliant puncheurs to hunt stages on the hilly days in Matej Mohoric and Fred Wright, but yet it has another leader.
Bauhaus comes in for his Tour de France debut actually at the age of 28. Looking at Bahrain's lineup it made little sense to add a pure sprinter among so much talent, but that's evidence of how much trust the team put into him, adding that his leadout man Nikias Arndt will be present. As is the case with Meeus, Bauhaus will also not be named a man to beat in any sprint, but can thrive amidst the chaos that is expected. Over 2022 and 2023 his wins were exclusively at World Tour level and here he could take a step in his career, after triumphs at Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour de Pologne and Tour Down Under.
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Nº2 - Rui Costa
The 11th Tour de France for Rui Costa. The Portuguese rider has won three stages in the past, however the last was already 10 years ago. So much has happened since as he became World Champion, attempted to go for Grand Tour overall classification, changed teams and settled into domestique roles, and now has been reborn with a transfer into Intermarché - Circus - Wanty. A match made in heaven it seems, as the veteran has won the Trofeo Calvia, the Volta a Comunitat Valenciana and then rode to fourth at Strade Bianche.
A lot of racing saw him then struggle later in the spring, but after some rest and preparation he's soared back into form, coming close to winning the final mountain stage of the Tour de Suisse where he's thrived in the past, coming as the breakaway's best on a high-mountains day - not the best suited to him. Tons of experience, full freedom to hunt wins and plenty hilly and mountainous days where he can join breakaways mean many opportunities. The 36-year old has serious chances of winning if he finds the same form he had earlier in the year.
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Nº1 - Antonio Pedrero
The oldest debutant in the Tour de France, Antonio Pedrero races the Grand Boucle for the first time at 31 years of age. It is no surprise also why he was chosen, Movistar Team are keen on supporting Enric Mas' ambitions for the overall classification and they have selected an '8' which can climb very well both in terms of quantity and quality. Pedrero is one of them, he recently had an extraordinary performance in the final day of the Criterium du Dauphiné, being the rider who answered to the attack of Adam Yates and Jonas Vingegaard - then later cracking in the final climb as he went all in for the stage win.
Form is on his side. Pedrero is an inconsistent rider but one of tremendous climbing capacity on his day. In the 2019 Giro he played a crucial support role for Richard Carapaz' victory, whilst over the past few years he's net some dominant wins in smaller races. If he finds his day he could win a mountain stage, that would be an impressive feat but one that for me wouldn't come as a huge surprise.