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2023 Rider Tiers Part 1: Who Are The Top Grand Tour Contenders Heading Into 2023?
Breaking down where each major grand tour contender stands as we approach the 2023 season
Listen to the latest BTP Podcast where my Beyond the Peloton Podcast co-host, Andrew Vontz, and I catch up on the Cyclocross season before breaking down which team Mark Cavendish could end up on for the 2023 season.
Ranking The 2023 Grand Tour Contenders
As the final days of 2022 wind down and the start of the 2023 professional cycling season quickly approaches, I thought it would be instructive (as well as just fun), to take stock of who the sport’s elite riders are at each major discipline (grand tours, one-classics & stage winning) heading into 2023 to give us a clearer view of what to expect when these major events roll around.
To kick things off, I am separating the top grand tour contenders into four tiers. To delineate them into tiers, I am taking into account 1) their results over the past four seasons, with results generated recently given more emphasis, 2) their age, and, most importantly 3) their likelihood to generate results (wins) in the 2023 season.
Why This Is Helpful
One major benefit of this exercise is the ability to objectively cut through the noise and see who the best riders at each discipline are. This is especially important in the modern landscape since there is an odd inversion where the less a rider produces, the more media coverage they receive.
For example, Mikel Landa has racked up a single grand tour podium since 2016 but gets far more attention and hype than his countryman Enric Mas, who has finished 2nd at the Vuelta in both of the last two seasons. This inversion can create mismatched expectations amongst fans, and even teams/riders themselves, prior to grand tours when 1/4th of the field is being touted as potential winners and teams are devoting precious resources to GC campaigns of riders with no real chance of contending for podium spots.
While there is a nearly endless array of emerging grand tour talents, like João Almeida, Carlos Rodriguez, and Juan Ayuso, who may go on to fantastic careers as grand tour winners, to qualify for the top four tiers, a rider must have either won a grand tour in the past four seasons or landed on a Tour de France podium within the past year. These young riders rightfully create a lot of excitement and get significant attention, but, most people vastly overestimate how close they are to actually converting their talent into a major grand tour win. Of course, there is always a chance one of them replicates Remco Evenepoel’s 2022 season, where he came in with a history of strong, but somewhat scattered, big-race results, and won a one-day Monument, grand tour, and world road race championship title, but, due to the unprecedented nature of the season, this is highly unlikely.
Below, each rider is listed in their BTP designated tier along with the age and team they will be racing at in 2023:
Reserved for riders who have proven an ability to win a grand tour against the sport’s best competition in recent years and have the ability to do so in 2023. This is obviously an incredibly small group.
Tadej Pogačar - (24) - UAE
Totals: 2xTdF overall win, 1xTdF runner-up, 1xVuelta 3rd place
Jonas Vingegaard - (26) - Jumbo
Totals: 1xTdF overall win, 1xTdF runner-up
Riders who both have, and could win in 2023, the rest of the sport’s grand tours. These riders will be considered serious potential winners of the Tour de France in 2023 if they are on the start list.
Primož Roglič - (33) - Jumbo
2020: 2nd@TdF, 1st@LaVuelta
2019: 1st@LaVuelta, 3rd@Giro
Totals: 3xVuelta overall win, 1xTdF runner-up, 1xGiro 3rd
Remco Evenepoel - (23) - QuickStep
Totals: 1xVuelta overall win
Riders who are able to win, but not be the outright favorite, at the sport’s two lesser grand tours (Giro & Vuelta) and competing for podiums at the Tour de France in 2023.
Richard Carapaz - (29) - EF
Totals: 1xGiro overall win, 1xGiro runner-up, 1xVuelta runner-up, 1xTdF 3rd
Jai Hindley - (26) - Bora
Totals: 1xGiro overall win, 1xGiro runner-up
These riders have an outside chance of winning and a good chance at podium finishes at the Giro and Vuelta in 2023. And if things go their way, they could finish on the podium at the Tour de France (note: Bernal would be higher on this list but his recovery from a difficult injury sustained 12 months ago, and the long time it takes to get back to full speed, makes his status somewhat unknown for 2023).
Egan Bernal - (26) - Ineos
Totals: 1xTdF overall win, 1xGiro win
Geraint Thomas - (36) - Ineos
Totals: 2xTdF podium
Enric Mas - (28) - Movistar
Totals: 2xVuelta podium
The sport’s elite young grand tour GC talent. Completely unproven as winners, but all have an impressive collection of top tens and podiums so far and will have great chances to finish on the podium, and perhaps even win, the 2023 Giro and/or Vuelta.
João Almeida - (24) - 3xGT top 6 overall (2020-202)
Carlos Rodriguez - (22) - 7th@ Vuelta 2022
Juan Ayuso - (20) -3rd@Vuelta 2022
Thymen Arensman - (23) - 6th@Vuelta 2022
The big takeaway from this list is just how few riders currently competing have won multiple grand tours over the past four seasons. In fact, only two riders on this list, Pogacar, and Roglic have won the same grand tour more than once since 2019. This shows just how strong the delineation is between the top tier and the rest of the field.
This also speaks to the difficulty of not only winning a grand tour, but sustaining that success. For example, after winning the 2020 Giro d’Italia, Tao Geoghegan Hart hasn’t shown any signs that he could challenge for another grand tour title.
Breakdown by team:
Jumbo-Visma: 1xTier 1, 1xTier 2
UAE: 1xTier 1, 2xTier 5
QuickStep: 1xTier 2
EF: 1xTier 3
Ineos: 1xTier 4, 2xTier 5
Bora: 1xTier 4
Movistar: 1xTier 4
This exercise illustrates just how far ahead the sport’s two elite grand tour GC teams, Jumbo and UAE, are ahead of the rest. Both are the only teams to possess current elite Tour de France-winning talents while having impressive depth with ‘backup’ GC riders that also land in their exclusive tiers.
It also shows just how wide the gulf is between these two elite organizations and the others. For example, even while the extremely well-funded Ineos squad has three tiered riders, they lack a single superstar capable of entering a grand tour as a favorite in 2023.
Projecting Future Dominance
An interesting sub-exercise we can undertake is taking the GC riders from these tiers and see how well they perform in the fight for stage wins while competing for the overall title at a grand tour. This is usually a good measure of a rider’s dominance and their sustainability as a grand tour winner since winning stages nets time bonuses, which are becoming more and more valuable as time margins tighten in modern racing, and it almost always shows an ability to time trial at an extremely high level during grand tours, which is the most efficient way to pry open time gaps in a grand tour.
Grand Tour Stage Win Performances:
Roglič, Pogačar, and Vingegaard are nearly unstoppable forces on their preferred terrain in a grand tour while on form (Pogačar’s 66% strike rate in particular is almost incomprehensibly good). The ability to convert wins gives them a major advantage over their competition due to their ability to rack up time with time bonuses and time trial gaps. While Vingegaard lacks the raw numbers of the other two, his two stage wins and four podiums at the most recent Tour de France are incredibly impressive and show an ability to compete for stages in the future.
Tadej Pogačar (24)
2022: 5xTdF stage podium (3xTdF stage win)
2021: 3xTdF stage podium (2xTdF stage win)
2020: 4xTdF stage podium (2xTdF stage win)
2019: 3xLaVuelta stage win
Totals: 10xGT total stage wins, 15xGT total stage podiums
Primož Roglič (33)
2022: 2xLaVuelta stage podium (1xLavuelta stage win) 1xTdF stage podium
2021: 6xLaVuelta stage podium (2xLaVuelta stage win) 2xTdF stage podium
2020: 6xLaVuelta stage podium (3xLaVuelta stage win) 4xTdF stage podium (1xTdF stage win)
2019: 5xLaVuelta stage podium
Totals: 7xGT total stage wins, 21xGT total stage podiums
Jonas Vingegaard (26)
2022: 4xTdF stage podium (2xTdF stage wins)
2021: 2xTdF stage podium
Totals: 2xGT total stage wins, 6xGT total stage podiums
Carapaz and Evenepoel have the ability to win extremely difficult stages but lack the well-roundedness of the top tier (Evenepoel’s lack of sprinting ability and Carapaz’s struggles in true watts-per-kilos battles). But, even with these limitations, they are among the best in the sport at converting wins in grand tours where they are competing in the GC (Carapaz’s numbers are slightly inflated due to his poor showing at the 2022 Vuelta allowing him to focus on chasing stage wins).
Richard Carapaz (29)
2022: 3xLaVuelta stage wins, 2xGiro stage podiums
2021: 2xTdF stage podiums
2020: 3xLaVuelta stage podiums, 2xTdF stage podiums
2019: 2xGiro stage wins
Totals: 5xGT total stage wins, 14xGT total stage podiums
Remco Evenepoel (23)
2022: 3xLaVuelta stage podium (1xLaVuelta stage win)
Totals: 1xGT total stage win, 3xGT total stage podiums
Hindley, Bernal, and Mas are all very solid riders who have the ability to stay in the hunt for stages but struggle to consistently convert wins at grand tours. This makes them slightly vulnerable in GC battles to the riders in higher tiers since even at equal strength, they can tend to leak small amounts of time due to this.
Jai Hindley (26)
2022: 3xGiro stage podiums (1xGiro stage win)
2020: 3xGiro stage podiums (1xGiro stage win)
Totals: 2xGT total stage wins, 6xGT total stage podiums
Egan Bernal (26)
2021: 5xGiro stage podiums (2xGiro stage wins)
Totals: 2xGT total stage wins, 5xGT total stage podiums
Enric Mas - (28) - Movistar
2022: 4xVuelta stage podiums
2021: 3xVuelta stage podiums
2020: 1xVuelta stage podium
Totals: 8xGT total stage podiums
Thomas, despite success earlier in his career and an impressive third-place overall showing at the 2022 Tour de France, is one of the worst top GC contenders at competing for stage wins in grand tours. This will make it incredibly difficult for him to convert grand tour podiums into wins in 2023.
Geraint Thomas - (36) - Ineos
2022: 1xTdF stage podium
Totals: 1xGT total stage podium
This all combines to show us that, at least in the near future, the established superstars class of Pogačar, Roglič, and Vingegaard will be extremely difficult to unseat if they take the start line fit and healthy since riders like Carapaz and Evenepoel will have to be a level above, either in poaching time through savvy tactics during transition stages or in the time trials, if they want to beat the more well-rounded riders in the top tier (which is potentially part of the reason why Evenepoel is kicking the can on head-to-head primetime showdown until the 2024 Tour de France).
Meanwhile, riders with fewer instances of winning stages like Hindley, Bernal, Thomas, and Mas will need to either dodge the higher-tiered GC riders with strategic race calendar decisions (see: Evenepoel), if they want to win grand tours going forward, but have a path for winning (repeat wins in the case of Hindley) at the Giro/Vuelta if things go their way.
It might seem absurd to say that a double grand tour winner like Bernal could struggle to compete with the sport’s top talents, but if you critically examine his talents in each discipline against his competition, it becomes obvious that he will struggle, even at full health, to take time on the climbs while losing time against the clock. This shows the extreme depth at the top levels of current grand tour contenders.
Stay tuned next week for the breakdown of the one-day classic tiers heading into 2023…