Tadej Pogacar will arrive at the Tour de France 2023 after having competed in the last two months only 2 days in the Slovenian national championships. The wrist fracture he suffered in Liège kept him out of training for a few weeks and makes his form for the very tough first week of the Grande Boucle an unknown.
Considering also that his great rival for the yellow, Jonas Vingegaard, has made a much more exclusive preparation to try to win in Paris, it is logical to say that the current defending champion, the Dane, is the favorite to repeat victory.
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This favoritism is increased if we compare their teams. Jumbo-Visma arrives with an '8' far superior to the Emirates team. We can compare rider by rider, as Javier Ramirez, the director of Sobre Ciclismo, does on Twitter, and it becomes clear:
- Adam Yates < Wout van Aert
- Marc Soler < Wilco Kelderman
- Rafal Majka > Sepp Kuss
- Matteo Trentin < Christophe Laporte
- Vegard Stake Laengen < Nathan van Hooydonck
- Mikkel Bjerg < Dylan van Baarle
- Felix Grossschartner < Tiesj Benoot
The UAE's strategy
We know that for some seasons the idea of Joxean Fernandez Matxin and the rest of UAE strategists is to take a great leader per Grand Tour and that none of them repeats. Thus, João Almeida went to the Giro d'Italia and Juan Ayuso will go to the Vuelta a España (it is not ruled out that the Portuguese will also go to the Spanish race).
I, however, don't understand why he doesn't try to accompany Pogacar (even more in these circumstances when he's in poor shape) in the best possible way. Ayuso is looking sharp after several months of sick leave and Almeida comes from finishing the Giro in third place and surely he could bring a lot to the Slovenian.
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Important riders like Jay Vine or Tim Wellens have fallen due to injury and the replacements don't seem to be reliable. Adam Yates has never been a reliable rider in 3-week races and INEOS was not an exceptional domestique. Marc Soler showed at the Spanish Championships that he is not in shape, Rafal Majka is getting on in years and in 2023 he has shown very little. With all these, the most reliable domestique for Pogacar seems to be Felix Grossschartner.
We've seen UAE riders lately in great form like Marc Hirschi who has also been left out (it was in 2022 when he was dragging and now that he's on a roll he's not going). Brandon McNulty helped Pogacar a lot last year, and also stays home. Like Davide Formolo, another riders who could help in the mountains.
Primoz Roglic was key for Jonas Vingegaard to win the Tour in 2022 just by imposing his presence. This year at Jumbo they leave him out, but include climbers like Benoot, Kuss or Kelderman and a van Aert who has more than proved he can be the best domestique in the world.
Let's be clear that we are not saying that UAE has a bad team, just that they could have a much better one considering the riders they have in their squad and the form Pogacar is in compared to Vingegaard.
Vingegaard arrives much better than Pogacar and Jumbo arrives much better than UAE. Everything would seem decided if we were not talking about cycling. If we were not talking about the Tour de France....