The 2023 Tour de France begins with a Grand Depart in the Basque Country and a starting line next to the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From there the peloton faces a 182km hilly course with 3,000m of elevation gain and five categorized climbs, the last two of which are sharp and demanding.
In recent years the Tour has often started with an individual time trial, which for my money is much more exciting than Stage 1 on Stage 20 (see the dramatic 2020 finale) and there is still little to play for. That’s why this day looks so intriguing: the yellow jersey is up for grabs and it’s won not against time but in a battle on the road, and the route – crisp but not mountainous – is one that almost anyone could win, apart from the pure sprinters and the pure climbers.
Could ousted Tadej Pogacar look to deal an early blow to reigning champion Jonas Vingegaard? The Dane prefers the highest peaks and needs to be careful. Vingegaard may need the protection of his teammates to avoid trouble and wind, especially when the peloton faces potential crosswinds along the Bay of Biscay coast that could split the pack.
There are quite a number of candidates for the first yellow jersey. Among the fastest finishers, Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are the most likely to climb the climbs quickly – if one of them comes down the penultimate hill, the Cote de Vivero (4.2km at 7.3%), near the top of the mountain race, then they will be a strong favorite to win. Van Aert needs his team’s permission to leave team leader Vingegaard behind, but Van der Poel doesn’t let such distractions distract him.
Then there is this puncheurs Who can really climb: Two-time world champion Julian Alaphilippe is the most obvious contender and he has a long history of snagging the yellow jersey early in the Tour and keeping it. Comfortable climbers like Giro winner Richard Carapaz, Brits Simon and Adam Yates, Danish debutant Matthias Skjelmose and Spaniard Pello Bilbao (as the name suggests, this is his home race) all have the legs to attack when the road is at its busiest hurts.
And don’t rule out Tom Pidcock. Nobody goes downhill as fast as the Yorkshireman and he can take advantage of the downhill stretches to get ahead when it counts.
Route map and profile of stage 1
It’s really wide open. Pogacar, Van Aert and Alaphilippe are all tempting favorites but let’s move on Mathieu van der Poel, a supreme all-rounder with the legs to conquer the climbs and the speed to beat anyone sprinting to the finish line. The Dutchman started the Tour last year exhausted and overcooked and gave up halfway. This time he has measured his season perfectly, has already racked up several wins and is expected to be at his best on the biggest stage.