The long wait is over once again. For many riders, and fans, this is the race that matters, the race they have focused on throughout the dreary, overcast months of late winter and early spring. For those riders, every cold, wet training ride; every interminable interval session, has led up to this point – the Tour de France Grand Départ in Bilbao.
We've seen them race; we've heard them talk the Tour up, or perhaps play it down; we've seen them crash too. But all of that is now but a noise fading into the background. It's time to let the legs do the talking... so how are those legs doing?
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
Last year: finished 2nd
Having arrived at the Tour de France, Pogačar has described himself as mentally "super good" but has admitted his wrist injury has affected his Tour build-up and while he is free of pain, it still has a little way to go.
The Slovenian's season had been going swimmingly, all the way up to Liège-Bastogne-Liège when he broke his wrist in a crash. In fact, he had looked near-unbeatable, racking up 10 wins in 19 races including the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold – and that's before we get to the general classification victories in Paris-Nice and Vuelta Andalucia.
However, he had to take time off after his crash and while he has since won the Slovenian National Championship road race and been on training camp, he has missed out on key warm-up races like Critérium du Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse that his rivals have under their belts.
CW rating: 4
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma)
Last year: was the overall winner
Vingegaard has enjoyed a textbook early season for a defending Tour de France champion. A bit like his big Slovenian rival – dare we say 'nemesis'? – the 26-year-old Dane has been winning since the beginning of the season, only he has managed not to break any bones along the way. While he hasn't won quite so prolifically as Tadej Pogačar, Vingegaard's looks like a perfect, slow burning ascent towards peak form at the Tour.
His most recent race, the Critérium du Dauphiné, saw him take two stages and win overall by more than two minutes, his closest rival Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) apparently powerless to do anything about it. Notably, Yates is being touted by the team as its co-leader alongside Pogačar at this year's Tour.
For his part, Pogačar is doing all he can to make his wrist injury work for him, pointing out that it takes the pressure off his own shoulders and loads it all onto those of Vingegaard.
The Dane of course has dismissed this, saying: "I don't think it matters to say who is the big favourite – I can also say that he is the big favourite.
“For me it’s quite easy, I only think about myself and only think about preparing myself as good as possible."
CW rating: 5
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ)
Last year: finished 4th
Fourth last year behind Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Frenchman Gaudu has enjoyed a solid Tour de France build-up.
However, this appeared to falter at the last with 30th overall at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné. Gaudu and his Groupama FDJ team were at a loss to explain what happened, although the hot weather affecting his performance was one hypothesis.
How much this would have affected Gaudu's confidence for the Tour de France remains to be seen, but the 26-year-old recently told l'Equipe, "I don't dwell too much on the past. Everything resets each time, especially at the Tour de France."
Gaudu will also take heart from the composition of this year's Tour parcours which, with just 22.4km of time trialling (and much of that uphill), could have been custom-designed for him.
CW rating: 3
Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates)
Last year: 9th
As mentioned above, Yates goes into this year's Tour de France as, ostensibly, a co-leader alongside Tadej Pogačar at UAE Team Emirates. The Brit, whose previous GC best is fourth in 2016, will be buoyed by one of his best early season campaigns in several years, having won the Tour de Romandie overall and coming second on GC at the Critérium du Dauphiné. The formbook from that race suggests he could fight for the podium but is unlikely to challenge the likes of Dauphiné winner Jonas Vingegaard for the top step of the Tour de France podium.
There is also the sneaking suspicion that despite Yates's clear good form, his job will quickly become relegated to that of super-domestique for his more fancied team-mate Pogačar after the Slovenian defies his patchy build-up with a series of typically exuberant week-one GC antics.
CW rating: 3
Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Last year: did not ride
Last year's Giro d'Italia winner Hindley will be making his Tour de France debut this July. Like David Gaudu, he has been eyeing the mountains-heavy route with interest and has already pointed out that despite this being his first crack at the race it might turn out to be the biggest opportunity he ever gets here.
The 27-year-old has clearly timed his run-in well, and while he has yet to cross the line first in 2023, he did clock fourth place in the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, and eighth in the Volta Catalunya in March.
For most riders, the Tour de France can be an overawing experience first time round, and Hindley has already made references to fulfilling a childhood dream just by being there.
But having already experienced the Grand-Tour-go-round to the full when he won the Giro d'Italia, there is nothing to suggest he can't put up a strong fight for the podium in France this July.
CW rating: 3
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