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Can Nairo Quintana Challenge Roglič In Paris-Nice?

Nairo Quintana has had a strong start to the season, as we saw at Tour de la Provence and Tour des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var, where the Colombian destroyed his competition on both climbs and descents. However, Quintana is yet to test himself against some of the world’s strongest general classification riders.

This is set to change on the 6th of March at Paris-Nice where, according to the provisional startlist, Quintana will face some tough competition including Primož Roglič, Simon Yates, Adam Yates, Aleksandr Vlasov and Joao Almeida.

Quintana’s Performances in 2022

As shown in the graph below, this year Quintana has outperformed his competition on the climbs. His best performance is Col d’Eze (6.78 w/kg for 14:07 minutes) in Tour des Alpes Maritimes whereas Montagne de Lure (6.06 w/kg for 32:44) is his best 20+ minute climb.

Lanterne Rouge x Cycling Graphs, Quintana’s Best Performances in 2022

The Montagne de Lure effort is more impressive than the average watts suggest, as the climb was paced asymmetrically, with a slower pace by FDJ’s Armirail until the last four kilometres, where Quintana stepped up the pace significantly to put enough time into Alaphilippe to win GC.

Quintana destroys everyone on Montagne de Lure in Tour de la Provence 2022

Quintana 2022 vs Roglič 2021

The favourite for Paris-Nice, and Quintana’s greatest threat, is Roglič. Interestingly, Quintana’s performances so far this year suggest that he is at a similar level to that of Roglič’s in 2021 in terms of peak watts per kg output. If Roglič performs in Paris-Nice at his 2021 level, Quintana will need some additional watts to drop the Slovenian and gain time against him on the mountain stages (which he will need to do, as he will lose time in the time trial).

Lanterne Rouge x Cycling Graphs, Primož Roglič 2021 vs Nairo Quintana 2022 and La Colmiane 2020

In both the 2020 and 2021 editions of Paris-Nice, Valdeblore La Colmiane (16.12 km at 6.33 %) was the biggest climb. In 2020 Quintana won the mountain top finish, beating runner up Tiesj Benoot by 46 seconds. In 2021 it was Roglič’s turn to take the victory by catching Gino Mäder just before the finish line and breaking the Swiss rider’s heart in the process.

Primož Roglič with a late attack wins on Valdeblore La Colmiane in Paris Nice 2021

Quintana and Roglič performed similarly on Valdeblore La Colmiane in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Roglič’s time is better by 18 seconds, but Quintana pushed 0.02 w/kg more because he attacked with 3.8 km to go and did not draft as much as Roglič, who waited for the final kilometre of the stage to attack.

Valdeblore La Colmiane 2020 and 2021 calculations by Naichaca

This suggests that in order for Quintana to drop Roglič in Paris-Nice, assuming that Roglič is in good condition, Quintana will need to put out more watts than what we have seen so far this year. The positive news for Quintana fans is that Quintana has likely not reached his peak career condition yet, which arguably was in February 2020 on Col d’Eze (7.5 w/kg for 9:25) and Chalet Reynard (6.67 w/kg for 28:12).

Lanterne Rouge x Cycling Graphs, 2022 performances in green

These were some of the best climbing performances in recent history, particularly the Chalet Reynard performance being almost unparalleled in the 21st century.

Quintana’s mutant performance on Col d’Eze 2020

What to Expect in Paris-Nice?

Quintana will not contest the hilly one day race Faun-Ardèche Classic on 26 February, despite initial rumours that he would line up, in order to better prepare for Paris-Nice. By contrast, Roglič will start his race season at Faun-Ardèche Classic followed by Drome Classic on 27 February. This will provide us with some insight into Roglič’s form in the lead up to Paris-Nice, with both races featuring punchy climbs that should suit the Slovenian.

Guilherand-Granges – France – wielrennen – cycling – cyclisme – radsport – David Gaudu (France / Team Groupama – FDJ) pictured during the Faun-Ardche Classic 2021- photo William Cannarella/Cor Vos © 2021

Stages 1 and 3 of Paris-Nice provide an opportunity to Roglič to take some bonus seconds if raced hard enough. However, it’s also possible that Jumbo-Visma will focus on supporting Wout van Aert’s ambitions during these stages, who is also lining up instead of racing at Tirreno-Adriatico like last year.

The primary threat to Roglič on this stage are fast finishers who can also get over some hills including Sonny Colbrelli, Bryan Coquard, Biniam Girmay, Ethan Hayter and his own teammate van Aert. Although Roglič is fast, his speed will be tested by such competition and it is a major boost for Quintana’s GC ambitions that Roglic might have to defer leadership in certain stages to van Aert.

Paris-Nice Stage 1 2022 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

To avoid a drag race to the finish, Roglič might seek to attack early on the 2-3 minute climbs and go solo in a style similar to Julian Alaphilippe. The Côté de Breuil-Bois-Robert (1.2 km at 6.9%) which is 5 km from the finish provides a perfect opportunity to attack.

Stage 2 is a flat sprint stage, while stage 3 finishes on a shallow hill of 2.1 km at 3.3% that probably is not steep enough for Roglič to attack or go against bigger sprinters while van Aert is in the group.

Paris-Nice Stage 3 2022 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Quintana will definitely need to be on the offensive on the later stages with longer climbs because he will lose significant time against Roglič and other time-trial specialists on the hilly 13-kilometre ITT on stage 4. We expect Quintana to lose 30 to 50 seconds to Roglič in the rolling ITT, despite Quintana’s solid prologue performance in Tour de la Provence.

Paris-Nice Stage 4 2022 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

There are three stages where Quintana might launch an attack and gain some time on bigger climbs. Of course, as Quintana proved in Tour de la Provence stage 1, he can gain time on competitors in crosswind stages. There is a very high chance that we will see echelon action in Paris-Nice, which is one of the windiest races in the calendar and has ruined GC hopes in past years before the race has even reached the climbs in the South of France. Roglič is not great at positioning in echelons, but Jumbo-Visma will bring a classics squad including Wout van Aert, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Christophe Laporte, and Mike Teunissen. If Roglič stays on van Aert’s wheel then he should always be in the first echelon and even if he misses a split, he has the best squad to bring the race back together.

Quintana rides in the first group in crosswinds in Tour de la Provence 2022

On stage 5 the rider’s face the Col de la Mure (7.7 km at 8.1%). The top of it is 30 km from the finish, but it is perfect for attacks and as Quintana showed in Alpes-Maritimes, he is not afraid to attack from far out. Later in the stage there is a shallower climb, where attacks are also possible on steeper parts.

Paris-Nice Stage 5 2022 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Stage 7 is the queen stage and finishes on the mighty Col de Turini (15.2 km, 7.2%) which was also used in the 2019 edition of Paris-Nice. Daniel Felipe Martinez won that day from the breakaway, but Nairo Quintana and Egan Bernal were the fastest from the GC favorites.

Col de Turini – France – wielrennen – cycling – cyclisme – radsport – Daniel Felipe Martinez (COL – EF Education First) pictured during the 77th Paris – Nice (2.UWT) – Stage 7 from Nice to Col de Turini (181.5KM) – photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2019

They climbed Col de Turini in 40:45. Jack Haig finished 22 seconds later. According to his strava data, Haig on Col de Turini produced 392 watts for 41:07. That is 5.6 w/kg if we assume his weight was 70 kilograms. In 2022 Paris-Nice, the climbing record should be broken if there is not a very strong headwind and if Quintana needs to gain time on Roglic.

Paris-Nice Stage 7 2022 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

The last chance to get time back for Quintana will be on the last day. Stage 8 will end with Col d’Eze (6.1 km, 7.6%) after a short day of constant up and down. It is the different side from the 2020 and 2022 Col d’Eze versions used in Tour des Alpes Maritimes, where Quintana performed at a very high level. This side is even steeper. In the first half of the climb there is a 1.3 km and 11.5% steep section which is perfect for an attack.

Paris-Nice Stage 8 2022 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Team Support

Unfortunately for Quintana it will be extremely hard to isolate Roglič, who will have Wout van Aert, Steven Kruijswijk and Rohan Dennis as climbing domestiques, while Quintana’s mountain support squad will include Simon Guglielmi, Matis Louvel, and Łukasz Owsian, without the invaluable Maxime Bouet and Nicolas Edet who have helped Quintana in previous weeks. Even if Quintana drops Roglič on Col d’Eze (or another climb), the Slovenian can use his domestiques to pace back Quintana. If Roglič performs at his 2021 level, then the only way he can lose against Quintana is if he repeats something similar to Paris-Nice stage 8, which is possible given how tricky the final stage is once again.

Roglič loses Paris-Nice 2021 in stage 8

His 2022 supporting cast will be considerably stronger than last year, so even if Roglič has some mishaps throughout Paris-Nice, there is no one better than Wout van Aert to rescue him. Of course, Roglic is not the only man to beat, and with Simon Yates, Aleksandr Vlasov and Adam Yates already looking in top shape this year, Quintana even reaching the podium of this race will be perhaps his best ever one week performance since he joined Arkea-Samsic.

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2023 Preview

The first WorldTour one-day race of the 2023 season is upon us, featuring 14 teams of which 11 are WorldTour level. The last time the biggest Australian one-day race, with its equally long name, happened was in 2020. It is one of the few WorldTour races on the calendar that has optional participation for WorldTour teams, so teams like Jumbo-Visma and Groupama-FDJ have already headed back to Europe after the Tour Down Under. Australians including Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan and Jay Vine are some of the favourites to win the race, however, in its short history, the only Australian to have won the Cadel Evans Race is Jay McCarthy, who was victorious in 2018.

Provisional Start List

Data powered by FirstCycling.com

The parcours suit many types of riders. A climber, puncheur or strong sprinter has a realistic shot to win. Jay Vine, Mauro Schmid and Michael Matthews fit those different types and this course offers all of them a good chance to win. In the 174 kilometres route there is only 1666 metres of elevation but the hardest hills are included in the second part of the race and close to the finish in Geelong.

Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race 2023 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Challambra Crescent (0.9 km, 8.9%) will be the hardest hill at 0.9 km of 8.9% gradient and will be completed four times. It is around a two minutes climb but is hard enough to cause massive splits in the peloton particularly if UAE launch the climb with their punchy squad – Finn Fisher Black took the KOM on a recon ride this morning. Right after it follows another punchy hill – Melville (0.6 km, 8.3%).

In the past, the race in honour of the Tour de France winner Cadel Evans has been won by various types of riders like Dries Devenyns, Elia Viviani and Jay McCarthy. The South African Daryl Impey even finished third three times in a row. He will also start this weekend in his final year in the peloton, but his performance in Santos Tour Down Under does not suggest an ability to replicate his past success.

Cadel Evans Ocean Road Race historic results by FirstCycling.com

Contenders

In the betting markets, Michael Matthews is the big favourite, followed by Caleb Ewan, Marc Hirschi, Mauro Schmid, Simon Yates, Jay Vine, Magnus Sheffield and Corbin Strong. Climbers like Yates and Vine who performed exceptionally well in the Santos Tour Down Under a week ago and are in great shape are not the biggest favourites but looking at how the 2020 race played out, where Dries Devenyns and Pavel Sivakov, both climbers, sprinted for a victory when the route was practically the same, maybe the climbers this year have been a little bit underrated.

Dries Devenyns (Belgium / Team Deceuninck – Quick Step) – Pavel Sivakov (Rusland / Team Ineos) pictured during 5th Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race – Elite a one day race from Geelong to Geelong (171,7) – photo Zac Williams/SWpix/Cor Vos © 2020

Challambra Crescent (0.9 km, 8.9%) might not seem that challenging but its combination with Melville (0.6 km, 8.3%) right after makes this course harder than expected and gives little respite to the riders in the finale. Four loops are enough to completely shatter the race and give climbers like Vine, Yates and O’Connor a good chance to win. Vine already proved in Santos Tour Down Under that he is strong enough to make splits and ride away from the peloton even on stages with a single hard climb. Vine has performed well on shorter races/stages such as in the Tour Down Under so maybe this race of around four hours duration might be even better for him. The main impediment for Vine to win is his sprinting ability. There is a high chance if he successfully attacks that Yates or other riders will be on his wheel. The hills are not hard enough for him to just ride away but still hard enough to make a difference against sprinters. There is a decent chance that Vine will initiate the winning move but will finish 2nd or 3rd in a small group sprint for the win or perhaps he bucks that trend and wins the sprint too.

Jay Vine (AUS / UAE-Team Emirates) – Rohan Dennis (AUS / Team Jumbo-Visma) pictured during 23rd Santos Tour Down Under (2.UWT) for elite men stage 2 from Brighton to Victor Harbor (154.8km) – Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2023

Magnus Sheffield already proved he is great in hilly races and won Brabantse Pijl in 2022 with an impressive performance. The American super-talent is in good shape as he finished 4th in Santos Tour Down Under. His teammates Luke Plapp and Ethan Hayter also might do will on Sunday and INEOS have multiple cards to play. Plapp and Sheffield can play a more attacking role while Hayter sits in the bunch and waits for the sprint.

Magnus Sheffield (USA / Team Ineos Grenadiers) pictured during 23rd Santos Tour Down Under (2.UWT) for elite men stage 2 from Brighton to Victor Harbor (154.8km) – Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2023

There are multiple sprinters here who can get over hills at a decent pace such as Michael Matthews, Caleb Ewan, Corbin Strong, Emīls Liepiņš, Hugo Page and Jordi Meeus. Matthews has a 20-25% chance to win according to bookmakers and he climbs well. But can he win? If the assumption above is right regarding Vine and Yates, then the climbers will be strong enough to drop them and gain a big enough gap to win. Matthews is likely to finish high but even if a climbing group is brought back, he might lose a sprint because everyone will be looking at him and force him to close gaps like in the Australian National Championships Road Race – there he lost in the sprint for second to Simon Clarke.

Versatile riders such as Alberto Bettiol, Mauro Schmid, Sven Erik Bystrom, Alessandro Covi, and Simon Clarke must be happy with this course. If Bettiol gets a gap he might be strong enough to solo to the victory like in Ronde van Vlaanderen 2019 or the hilly circuit of the Giro d’Italia 2021 Stage 18. Bettiol’s sprint is also strong enough to win from a reduced bunch. He finished second behind Bryan Coquard in an uphill finish in Santos Tour Down Under.

Alberto Bettiol (ITA / Team Ef Education – Easypost) pictured during 23rd Santos Tour Down Under (2.UWT) for elite men prologue in Adelaide (5.5km) – Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2023

Predictions

The race will be aggressive and too hard for sprinters like Strong and Liepiņš. The Climbers will up the tempo on the climbs and four laps are enough, particularly with UAE’s strong squad. Sheffield showed multiple strong performances in 2022 and is currently in good shape. He will make the leading group which will consist of 4-10 riders and after that, the future Tour de France winner will go solo like in Brabantse Pijl.

Trofeo Calvia 2023 Preview

Trofeo Calvia is the first of five UCI 1.1 category one-day races in Mallorca. Some riders use the Mallorcan races as training to get in better shape like Alejandro Valverde but with loads of UCI points on the line some teams are definitely motivated to perform already in January.

As the series of races are uniquely five consecutive one-day races rather than a stage race, teams can substitute riders in and out of the team each day as they wish, choosing from their broader squad that will presumably be training in Mallorca. For the first time Trofeo Calvia and the other races in Mallorca will be broadcast live, which is great news.

Calendar of Races in Mallorca

25.01 Trofeo Calvia
26.01 Trofeo Port D’Alcudia – Port D’Alcudia
27.01 Trofeo Andratx – Mirador D’es Colomer (Pollença)
28.01 Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana (Lloseta – Lloseta)
29.01 Trofeo Palma – Palma

Trofeo Calvia Start List

Data powered by FirstCycling.com

The profile of this opening race is hilly and suited for climbers and hilly specialists like Brandon McNulty, Tim Wellens and Julian Alaphilippe – the top 3 favourites to win the race when the betting markets opened. There are not many hard hills in the route but in 149.7 kilometres there is 3129 metres of elevation with the road either going up or down. These hills will thin out the group and after most riders are dropped and there is some fatigue in the legs, it is possible to do a long solo. McNulty proved that in 2022, winning Trofeo Calvia with a 60 kilometre solo after dropping everyone in the mountains.

Trofeo Calvia Profile by La Flamme Rouge

In the last 100 kilometres all the hills are below 6% gradient. Usually 7% is the mark where the drafting effects becomes less important and the stronger riders can more easily get separation. All of the climbs in the 2nd half of the race are in the range of 4% to 5.2% gradient.

Behind McNulty in 2022 was a second group of nine riders – Suter, Albanese, Wellens, Clarke, Valverde, Goosens, Owsian, Buchmann and Zwiehoff. In 2021 the race culminated with a sprint between Ryan Gibbons and Anthony Delaplace where the UAE Emirates rider Gibbons won. Rune Heregodts was third and after that there was a huge group with 33 riders. Before 2021, the last time Trofeo Calvia happened in 2011. However when looking at the old results, it was sprinters who won but the parcours and racing style has changed and now it suits the hilly specialists.

It is forecasted that it will rain during the race and possibly for all five races in Mallorca. The temperature might be around 10 Celsius, which is cold for Spanish standards even at this part of the season. With the tailwind dominating in the second part of the race, the scenario of someone winning from a solo is very likely.

Contenders

UAE-Team Emirates has won Trofeo Calvia twice in a row and have brought an incredibly strong team for a January UCI 1.1 race. They are very likely to continue their winning streak as they have sent Brandon McNulty and Tim Wellens who both are huge favourites in the betting markets. Wellens performs the best in early season races because it is colder and the Belgian suffers from allergies brought on by the effects of heat. Matteo Trentin and Diego Ulissi are also both in the Top 20 favourites and it is clear UAE-Emirates might play with numbers and send riders in multiple attacks. If nothing works then Trentin might win from the bunch sprint. If the race has been attritional and there are only climbers left in the leading group, Ulissi might have a good shot at winning from a small group sprint. In 2022 the UAE-Emirates riders performed exceptionally in the early part of the season, with Ulissi’s win in GP Industria on 27th March being the team’s 22nd victory at that time. There is a good chance that once again the UAE-Emirates riders are in great shape already in the early season, as shown by Jay Vine winning the Tour Down Under GC. McNulty in the early 2022 races also performed great and for some time he was the leader in the earned UCI points for 2022.

Brandon McNulty (USA – UAE Team Emirates) pictured during Trofeo Calvia 2022 – Challenge Mallorca – 31st Edition – Peguera – Palmanova 154,7 km – 26/01/2022 – Photo: Luis Angel Gomez/Cor Vos © 2022

Julian Alaphilippe on paper might be the biggest name in Trofeo Calvia. After an unsuccessful 2022 season, mainly due to the effects of his horrific crash in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the French star will want to perform. In both 2021 and 2022 Alaphilippe arrived in great shape in Tour de La Provence, which sadly will not be held in 2023. Soudal-Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere has recently made harsh comments about Alaphilippe in the media, which is not the first time Lefevere has criticised big stars of his team. If a rider earns big money on Quick-Step, they must deliver results every single year or otherwise Lefevere will throw some punches in the media.

Les Praeres. Nava – Spain – cycling – Julian Alaphilippe (FRA – Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) pictured during 77th La Vuelta ciclista a Espa–a (2.UWT) – stage 9 Villaviciosa > Les Praeres. Nava (171.4km) – Photo: Luis Angel Gomez/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

The course is perfect for Alaphilippe. The problem is the Frenchman does not like rainy and cold conditions as he has shown multiple times. One of the best examples is the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire where it was extremely wet and Alaphilippe was not close winning, despite a perfect parcours. His teammate Andrea Bagioli also has a decent sprint and the power to get over hills. Quick-Step has sent a good climbing squad to Mallorca with Ilan van Wilder, Fausto Masnada, Louis Vervake and Mauri Vansevenant to complement their fast finishers. They are the second strongest team behind only UAE-Emirates and might do a big damage.

Other notable riders in Trofeo Calvia are Lennard Kämna, Andrea Piccolo, Axel Zingle, Emanuel Buchmann, Neilson Powless, Cian Uijtdebroeks, Warren Barguil and Guillaume Martin. It is an early season race and an outsider might have a good shot to surprise everyone if they are in great shape. Intermarché-Circus-Wanty are such a team that might surprise, bringing Rune Herregodts and new signing Lilian Calmejane. Both riders odds are less than 1% in the betting markets, but they pushed good numbers recently in the training camp and Intermarché performance staff likely has made them arrive in good shape for the plentiful points on offer. Herregodts was strong in the early season in 2022, winning his first race of the year, the opening stage of Andalucia in the middle of February.

Prediction

Brandon McNulty will defend his title successfully. UAE-Emirates has sent a strong team and multiple riders might win from that group. With team tactics likely involved, my pick is McNulty who will again do a solo. Of course, everyone knows he is dangerous and will watch for his attacks but the American in the winter trained hard and already performed exceptionally in the early 2022 season. He is a strong one-day racer and this course suits him. Even with a target on his back from the other riders, when he is on his day there are very few riders in the world that can stay with him, most of whom will not be in attendance in Mallorca.

Kārlis Ozols (@CyclingGraphs)

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Preview

The Vuelta a San Juan is the most prestigious stage race in North and South America and attracts some of the biggest names in cycling. Remco Evenepoel will start his 2023 season in Argentina as the current world champion whilst other stars lining up include Peter Sagan, Egan Bernal, Daniel Felipe Martinez, Filippo Ganna, Miguel Angel Lopez, Fabio Jakobsen and Sam Bennett. To Evenepoel’s chagrin, there is no time-trial this year. Instead the fight for the GC title will be decided by the mountain stage up Alto del Colorodo.

Provisional Start List

Data powered by FirstCycling.com

Stage 1

The first stage is made for pure sprinters like Fabio Jakobsen and Sam Bennett who are here in San Juan. The sprinters field is stacked as there are possibly six stages for the fast guys. Soudal – Quick Step have brought Yves Lampaert, Michael Morkov, Jan Hirt, Remco Evenepoel and Pieter Serry to accompany the European Champion sprinter, which should be a formidable train for a January .Pro race. Do not be surprised to see Evenepoel helping with the sprint train as he did in the 2022 early races such as Valenciana and Algarve. Bora-Hansgrohe have Bennett with possibly the strongest lead-out man in the world Danny van Poppel and set-up man Ryan Mullen. Fernando Gaviria will debut for Movistar, with the Colombian having won eight stages in San Juan in the past. Other sprinters competing are Elia Viviani (INEOS), Gleb Syritsa (Astana), Sam Welsford (DSM), Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies), Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel – Premier Tech), Jon Aberasturi (Trek-Segafredo), Giovanni Lonardi (EOLO-Kometa) and German Nicolas Tivani (Corratec).

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Stage 1 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Stage 2

Stage 2 is a little bit harder with 1461 metres of gradual elevation gain but with no steep climbs this stage is once again made for sprinters.

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Stage 2 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Stage 3

The Stage 3 finish will be different to the preceding stages. Despite only having 375 metres of elevation gain, most of the climbing will be done in the final part of the route, so expect everyone will be fresh in the last 10 kilometres with a huge fight for position into the circuit entrance.

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Stage 3 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

The 3-4% rise at the end still should not be a big problem for the pure sprinters. The last 5 kilometres will be done in an autodrome, which includes many sweeping corners and some small rises.

Circuito San Juan Villicum

This finish was used twice in San Juan, first in 2019 where German Nicolas Tivani won from a breakaway, beating the peloton by 12 seconds whilst Bennett and Gaviria were the fastest from the bunch behind.

In 2020 Zdenek Štybar surprised the bunch with a late attack from the peloton and won solo. This means someone like Quinn Simmons or even Remco Evenepoel might have a small chance to go solo in the final kilometres if other teams make a mistake and do not close their attack immediately or if Quickstep deliberately let Evenepoel’s wheel go during a leadout. Otherwise this should be another chance for the sprinters.

Stage 4

2646 metres of elevation gain means this is easily the second hardest climbing day of the race but the final 110 kilometres are relatively easy. The early climbs are not steep but are extremely long and it is possible to drop sprinters if a team like INEOS commits to pacing. However with 6 rider teams, even if some sprinters are initially dropped, it might be hard to pull off keeping them behind if INEOS receive no help from other teams. This scenario is unlikely but a hard pace to fatigue sprinters still might be a worthwhile endeavour. This stage also might be suited for breakaway for someone like Quinn Simmons, who has been in breakaways in similar Vuelta stages, but as the first three stages are for sprinters and no one will have lost a ton of time there might not be many breakaway riders allowed in a move.

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Stage 4 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Stage 5

The only mountain stage in San Juan and the final climb is not even that steep. Alto del Colorado (18.8 km, 4.4%) goes up to 2623 metres above sea level but it is a perfect climb for heavier riders. Filippo Ganna in 2020 finished 6th on the climb losing only four seconds to the stage winner Miguel Eduardo Florez and finishing together with Evenepoel.

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Stage 5 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

The second part of Alto del Colorado is steeper as it includes more 5% sections. At two kilometres to the finish there is a 7.1% section, which is a perfect launching point if climbers are still together. Jan Hirt will be crucial for Evenepoel as everyone might work against him and make him close the attacks and gaps like in the 2020 race. Evenepoel is the big favourite and all eyes will be on him, with Medellin having Sevilla and Lopez to play the numbers game.

The climbing record is owned by Gonzalo Najar. The Argentinian produced one of the greatest climbing performances of all time (this is not a joke) and beat Oscar Sevilla by almost two minutes. Najar did the climb in 36 minutes and 58 seconds, beating Tiesj Benoot (+2:23), Filippo Ganna (+2:23), Rafal Majka (+3;07), Fausto Masnada (+3:22) by huge amounts of time, considering that drafting is extremely important on this shallow climb and Najar was solo for an extended period. In 2020 Evenepoel did the climb over two minutes slower in 39:09 min. Najar, after this super human performance, was suspended as he tested positive for EPO-based blood booster CERA on January 21 of 2018, four days before his mythical Alto del Colorado performance.

Can anyone break this record? It is extremely unlikely. Evenepoel or Miguel Angel Lopez would need to push their record power and probably even more watts. It would not be an easy job to break this record even with a huge tailwind. Najar’s performance is out of this world even compared to the high 2020-2022 w/kg levels when accounting for the high altitude.

Stage 6

After two harder days, Stage 6 is another straight forward sprint stage.

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Stage 6 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Stage 7

On the final day the sprinters will again compete on the streets of San Juan for the stage win.

Vuelta a San Juan 2023 Stage 7 Profile By La Flamme Rouge

Contenders

Remco Evenepoel is the huge favourite to win this race. With a time-trial like in 2020 where he destroyed everyone, including Filippo Ganna, there would be no doubts about Evenepoel winning the GC but with a single mountain top finish anything can happen. There might be bonus seconds that prove decisive in the intermediate sprints. In the 2021 Giro Evenepoel used the powerful Soudal Quick-Step train to snatch some bonus seconds in intermediate sprints and might do the same in Argentina (despite saying he would never do so again in a Grand Tour).

Remco Evenepoel (BEL – Deceuninck – Quick Step) pictured during 38th Vuelta a San Juan Internacional (2.Pro) stage 7 from San Juan to San Juan (141.3KM) – Photo: Ilario Biondi/RB/Cor Vos © 2020

Apart from Evenepoel there are a few more decent GC contenders hailing from Colombia, Miguel Angel Lopez, Sergio Higuita and Daniel Felipe Martinez. Martinez might have better support in the mountains from his team with Narvaez, Ganna, Rivera and Bernal. It will be curious to see Bernal’s form as he is training hard and has said he wants to ride the Tour de France this year. Both Higuita and Martinez are punchy and might win the Alto del Colorado mountain top finish where bonus seconds could prove crucial.

Surprisingly, when the betting markets opened, Miguel Angel Lopez was 4th favourite behind Evenepoel, Martinez and Higuita. Lopez despite his contract being terminated from Astana and now riding for Medellin – EPM is in incredible shape as he showed in local Colombian races. Lopez even did a huge training performance at high altitude in Colombia recently. Medellin was testing their mountain train on the Alto de las Palmas climb, which has been used in the Tour of Colombia, where Lopez did an estimated 6.34 w/kg for 26:17 min, which is super impressive for a climb that goes up to 2520 metres above sea level.

Lopez’ teammate Oscar Sevilla is still in great shape at age 46 and might be the perfect domestique for Lopez on Alto del Colorado or potentially a threat as a co-leader. At the time of writing Sevilla is 6th favourite in the betting markets behind Evenepoel’s teammate Jan Hirt.

Remco Evenepoel (BEL – Deceuninck – Quick Step) – Oscar Sevilla (ESP – TeamMedellin) pictured during 38th Vuelta a San Juan Internacional (2.Pro) stage 5 from Caucete to Alto Colorado (175.1KM) – Photo: Roberto Bettini/RB/Cor Vos © 2020

Other riders that might perform in the GC are Egan Bernal, Filippo Ganna, Jhonthan Narvaez, Einer Augusto Rubio, Steff Cras, Quinn Simmons, Marco Brenner, Harold Tejada and Stephen Williams.

Prediction

It would be too easy picking Evenepoel but I will do it anyway. He might not win the Alto del Colorado finish as Higuita, Martinez and Lopez will likely stay with Evenepoel and have a chance to outsprint him, however the Soudal Quick-Step train should be strong enough to get crucial bonus seconds for him from intermediate sprints.

Quinn Simmons is not even a Top 20 favourite but he trains at altitude in Colorado and New Mexico. The Alto del Colorado might even suit him and it would not be a surprise if he performs well given its moderate gradients and his high absolute watts. Before San Juan Simmons has done huge 25-32 hour weeks in the winter months. If he trained at the right volume and brought fresh legs, he might be surprise even himself.

Kārlis Ozols (@CyclingGraphs)

Who Can Actually Lead-Out Mark Cavendish at Astana?

After the B&B Hotels team completely collapsed late in this off-season, Mark Cavendish was left with few options in his search for a new team. Unexpectedly, the Manx Missile has joined Astana Qazaqstan, a team which, up until a few weeks ago did not have have space left on its roster. However after sacking Miguel Angel Lopez a roster spot opened up as well as his presumedly handsome salary off their books for 2023 too. Good news for Cavendish’ wallet as well as for fans hoping to see him back at the Tour de France. A big question mark is how will he actually fare at Astana, a team which has historically not focussed on sprinting.

A Shallow Sprint History

Looking through Astana’s history, there has not been a sprinter who has won multiple World Tour sprints for them in a single season. Andrea Guardiani (2013-2016) might be the best pure sprinter in Astana’s history, winning 19 races across that period but with only a single World-Tour sprint victory (Eneco Tour 2014 Stage 1). Guardini was a Tour de Langkawi specialist, as he won 11 stages there for Astana and 24 total Langkawi sprints in his career. Allan Davis (2010), Magnus Cort (2018-2019), Davide Ballerini (2019) and Alex Aranburu (2020-2021) might be other notable sprinters but they were better from reduced bunches rather than pure sprints, particularly Cort and Aranburu.

Baling – Malaysia – wielrennen – cycling – radsport – cyclisme – Andrea Guardini (Astana) pictured during Tour de Langkawi 2016 – stage 1 from Kangar to Baling 165.5 km – 24/02/2016 – photo LB/RB/Cor Vos © 2016

In 2023 Cavendish will not be the only sprinter on Astana as the team also signed the fast Estonian Martin Laas who previously rode for Bora-Hansgrohe. Russian Gleb Syritsa is another youngster joining the team, the 22 year old has a fast finishing kick, winning Tour de Langkawi Stage 1 and placing second in Tour de Slovaquie Stage 1 only behind Quick-Step’s Ethan Vernon. He dominating the Spanish amateur race circuit earlier in the year, winning eight races on parcours that are generally not suited to burly sprinters.

Gleb Syritsa (KAZ – Astana Qazaqstan Team) pictured during – Le Tour de Langkawi 2022 – 26th Edition – 1st stage Kuala Pilah – Kuala Lumpur 157,3 km – Photo: Luca Bettini/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Who will lead-out Cavendish?

Astana do not have much sprinting experience at WorldTour level, where the competition is always high and without a competent train it is hard to deliver sprinter in a good position. This level of competition will be at an even higher level of intensity in the Tour de France 2023, where Alpecin-Deceuninck, BikeExchange, Groupama FDJ and Soudal-Quickstep will likely send their top sprinters with dedicated and experienced lead-out trains. The last man role is particularly important in WorldTour sprints, as indicated by Alpecin picking up veteran Roman Sinkeldam to lead-out Philipsen after Jonas Rickaert returns from injury.

Another rider burned by the B&B collapse is DSM’s Cees Bol, who is rumoured to join Astana presumably as a lead-out man for Cavendish. After a Spring victory against Pedersen and Bennett in Paris-Nice Stage 2 2021, it looked like the big Dutchman might have put it all together however he has remained very inconsistent. He usually has one great sprint per season, the last being his victory in Tour of Britain Stage 2, his only podium finish in 2022. This year he was already moved into a partial lead-out role by DSM, including in the Giro d’Italia where he was the last lead-out man for his DSM teammate Alberto Dainese. The Italian was able to win Stage 11 against Gaviria, Demare, Cavendish, Ewan, Bauhaus and other good sprinters however Bol did not really feature in the last 500 metres.

Bol is a huge rider (194 cm) and seems to be their best option as a last lead-out man with his huge drafting benefit and experience in Tour de France sprints – three participations and multiple sprint top 10s . Despite his stature, he has more endurance than Sam Bennett type sprinters and can get over hills as he proved in Tour de Suisse Stage 3 and Tour of Britain Stage 2 in 2022.

Martin Laas and Gleb Syritsa are the other obvious options for the sprint train. Laas is quite small for a lead-out man being only 176 centimetres tall, however some famous lead-outs like Richeze are also on the smaller side. Syritsa is huge, standing at 189 cm and 85 kg according to PCS. He definitely has huge watts under his bonnet as he finished second in the gruelling Arctic Race of Norway Stage 1 uphill sprint, losing only to star neo-pro Axel Zingle.

Arctic Race of Norway Stage 1 Uphill Sprint With Syritsa Finishing Second

Syritsa is a big talent capable of getting results for himself but adding him into Cavendish’ train as second last man for major races seems logical. It may be a big step down from Cavendish’ Tour de France 2021 pairing of Morkov and Ballerini but Bol and Syritsa might be better than he expected at Astana.

Who can set up the Cavendish – Bol – Syritsa trio? It will be hard to compete against the firepower of the top sprint teams, who have riders like Kasper Asgreen, Ryan Mullen and Miles Scotson putting their final three riders into position in the last two kilometres. When you do not have the firepower then setting up a conventional sprint train is usually not the best option. A weak train that cannot perform in the last kilometre and blows up too early like Israel Start-Up Nation often did in the last two years is the worst case possible.

Israel start their leadout too early in UAE Tour

Bol and Syritsa guarding and positioning Cavendish on the strongest competitor’s lead-out train might not be the worst case scenario. Usually the fourth and fifth man in the train are pursuit style riders who can do 500 watts in the final five kilometres. Gianni Moscon in 2022 was horrendous but with peak shape he would be a good option to at least set up the final trio. U23 World Champion Yevgeniy Fedorov (193cm, 80kg) should be powerful and big enough for the job too if he can handle the chaos of the finale of a WorldTour sprint. There are not many other 72kg+ guys on Astana. Dmitriy Gruzdev, Andrey Zeits, Luis Leon Sanchez all are above 72kg and might be options but realistically they will lack the firepower and positioning to fulfil this role in the Tour de France. Lutsenko is heavy for a GC rider and might be around 70kg but he likely will focus on GC and saving energy for mountain stages. Samuele Battistella is listed at 67 kg on PCS, climbs really well and is not bad from bunch sprints. Perhaps he can fulfil the Alaphilippe style role that he successfully played for Cavendish before Asgreen in the train in the Tour de France 2021.

Cavendish achieving his record 35th win would be a huge success for the team, with neither the team nor the rider likely being in each other’s plans even a month ago. The Tour de France parcours in 2023 is catered towards the bunch sprinters and, despite being snubbed for the Tour in 2022, Cavendish remained at a very high level this year. Even so, Astana probably will not send a full sprint team to the Tour de France as the team is full of climbers and will also want Lutsenko to succeed in the general classification. Bol, Syritsa, Moscon, Fedorov, Leon Sanchez, Lutsenko and Zeits would be a good team to balance those ambitions. With Lopez out the door and Nibali retiring, Astana had to try something to lift the level of the team after a dismal 2022. Whether Cavendish after two resurgent years at Quickstep is that solution remains to be seen, with his performance at Bahrain-Mclaren a not too distant memory of the past.

Kārlis Ozols (@CyclingGraphs)

Young Riders To Watch In 2023

The peloton is getting younger and younger and there will be many talents who will shine in 2023. In this article we picked some of the best young talent that might impress with great performances this year.

Of the 10 riders in this list, all of them were born between 2000 and 2003. To be included they must have been outside of the UCI ranking Top 200 with no big results in WorldTour races before 2023 as well as some obvious supertalents like Cian Uijtdebroeks being excluded despite meeting those restrictions.

Madis Mihkels

Team in 2023: Intermarché – Circus – Wanty (contract until 2024)

Born: 31st May 2003

Madis Mihkels is the youngest rider on this list. The Estonian is versatile and can practically do everything at a good level on a road bike which means that he should immediately be a valuable UCI point hunter for Intermache in 2023.

Source: Estonian Cycling Federation

In the Tour of Estonia 2022 Stage 1, Mihkels outclassed the BikeExchange – Jayco team which brought Kaden Groves and a WorldTour level squad. Mihkels not only won the uphill cobbled sprint but completely Groves who later went on to win a Vuelta stage.

Mihkels performed exceptionally well for a first year U23 rider at the World Championships in Australia, where he finished fourth, beating Olav Kooij in the bunch sprint. Of the first year U23 riders, Mihkels was the highest placed finisher and the only one in the Top 10.

Mihkels’ younger compatriots Romet Pajur and Frank Aaron Ragilo are already in WorldTour systems and also might deliver good results this season. For a country with a population of only 1.33 million people, the Estonian young future looks extremely bright.

Unfortunately, Mihkels was hit by a car while training in Estonia at the start of 2023. Luckily he did not suffer huge injuries or break a bone. The aftermath was a 7 centimetres deep cut on his lower back caused by a car mirror however Mihkels right after the crash continued to train, according to his Strava and is currently with his team in the January training camp in the Alicante region in Spain.

Madis Mihkels Strava Activities

Thomas Gloag

Team in 2023: Jumbo-Visma (contract until 2025)

Born: 13th September 2001

Thomas Gloag is one of the biggest young British talents, and seems to have the tools to turn into a great GC rider. Despite not winning a stage race GC as an U23 rider, the Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma obviously saw potential in Gloag. Jumbo-Visma is known for improving riders with their system and maximising their potential like they did with less conventional signings such as Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard. Whilst riding as a trainee for Jumbo at the back-end of 2022, Gloag finished 17th in Giro dell’Emilia and 12th in Tre Valli Varesine, both being hard and hilly one-day races.

Thomas Gloag (GBR – Team Jumbo – Visma) pictured during Gran Piemonte 2022 – 106th Edition – Omegna – Beinasco 198 km) – Photo: Luca Bettini/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

In Tre Valli Varesine he was by far the youngest rider who made the first group with the second youngest rider in the group being Tadej Pogačar, who is three years older than Gloag. In Gran Piemonte Gloag was also 12th, but on the major climb of the day he made the first small selection of attackers easily but could not cooperate or attack, as Jumbo’s sprinter Kooij was dropped behind. Based on these results in Italy, Gloag should be ready to contribute at WorldTour level in 2023.

Gleb Syritsa

Team in 2023: Astana Qazaqstan Team (contract until 2024)

Born: 14th April 2000

Syritsa is huge but can sprint and climb well for his size, with a similar profile to Jonathan Milan. The Russian won multiple high level amateur races in Spain at the start of 2022. Whilst these were not UCI races, the amateur race circuit in Spain is full of mountainous terrain and many strong riders, with Richard Carapaz earning a World-Tour contract whilst racing there. Later in the 2022 season he proved himself riding for Astana, winning the first stage of Tour de Langkawi in sprint and finishing in high places in other UCI races, such as the Arctic Race of Norway. Syritsa might not become the best sprinter in the world but he might be the perfect lead-out man, with a huge draft behind him, resistance over hills and strong seated power.

Gleb Syritsa (KAZ – Astana Qazaqstan Team) pictured during – Le Tour de Langkawi 2022 – 26th Edition – 1st stage Kuala Pilah – Kuala Lumpur 157,3 km – Photo: Luca Bettini/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Max Poole

Team in 2023: Team DSM (contract until 2024)

Born: 1st March 2003

Max Poole earned a pro contract with the DSM WorldTour team after strong performances in Sazka Tour (2.1) and Arctic Race of Norway (2.Pro). Despite being a first year U23 rider, Poole finished 10th in GC in Sazka Tour, losing 48 seconds to Lorenzo Rota and even less time to such great U23 talents as Archie Ryan, Oscar Onley and Johannes Staune-Mittet. Poole is at least one year younger than all of those riders and could improve massively in 2023. Whilst not making this list, Poole’s teammate Oscar Onley is also a talent to watch out for in 2023, after challenging Jonas Vingegaard in CRO Race uphill finishes last September -earning him a contract until 2027.

La Villabassa na – Italia – cycling -Max Poole (Team DSM) pictured during 45th Tour of the Alps (2.Pro) stage 3 from Lana to Villabassa 154.6KM – Photo: Ilario Biondi/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Samuel Watson

Team in 2023: Groupama – FDJ (contract until 2024)

Born: 24th September 2001

Samuel Watson is one of the seven riders from Groupama-FDJ’s development team who recieved a contract with the WorldTour team in 2023. Others were Laurence Pithie, Reuben Thompson, Lenny Martinez, Romain Gregoire, Enzo Paleni and Lorenzo Germani who are all exciting talents in their own right. Watson is a versatile rider who can do almost everything on a road bike fairly well, but seems suited to being a top classics rider. Some of his best results in 2022 include 5th in Tro Bro Leon, 2nd in the British National Championships behind Mark Cavendish and a win in U23 Gent-Wevelgem from a huge bunch sprint. Watson’s biggest strength might be his sprint and whilst FDJ’s classics leaders Küng and Madouas are extremely strong, the team has been missing a classics rider who can finish in a sprint – perhaps Watson is the answer.

Wollongong – Australia – cycling – Samuel Watson of Great Britain pictured during 89th World Championships Men – Road under 23 Wollongong > Wollongong (136km) – Photo: Alex Whitehead/SWPix/Cor Vos © 2022

Romain Gregoire

Team in 2023: Groupama – FDJ (contract until 2024)

Born: 21st January 2003

Possibly the biggest talent on this list is Romain Gregoire, the future of French cycling. Gregoire is not a GC rider so hopefully Groupama-FDJ do not try to turn him into that, with his biggest strength being hilly one-day races – a natural comparison is Julian Alaphilippe. He won four consecutive one-day races in the Spring of 2022, one of them being the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege, however Gregoire is not a mountain goat as he lost a lot of time in the U23 Giro and Tour de l’Avenir queen stages. Gregoire’s potential is huge and in 2023 he already might perform exceptionally in the Ardennes classics.

Source: Groupama FDJ Twitter

Archie Ryan

Team in 2023: Jumbo-Visma Development Team (contract until 2023)

Born: 16th November 2001

Archie Ryan’s development team contract ends this year and he does not have a future deal with Jumbo-Visma’s WorldTour team, like Staune-Mittet or Strand Hagenes. Despite his youth, Ryan performed in every stage race he competed in since August of 2022 – 6th in Sazka Tour, 4th in Tour de l’Avenir, 6th in Tour de Slovaquie and 8th in Ronde de l’Isard is an impressive streak of results.

Archie Ryan (IRL – Team Jumbo – Visma) – Mauri Vansevenant (BEL – Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team) – Lorenzo Fortunato (ITA – EOLO – Kometa) pictured during 66th Okolo Slovenska / Tour de Slovaquie (2.1) stage 2 – Hlohovec – Banska Stiavnica 186,3km) – Photo: Tommaso Pelagalli/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Importantly, Ryan also won stages both in Tour de Slovaquie and Ronde de l’Isard. His most impressive performance however might be in Tour de l’Avenir Stage 8, where he finished second only behind Cian Uijtdebroeks on a huge mountain stage – losing only two seconds to the Belgian supertalent. In 2023 Ryan might be the best Irish climber and will surely have many teams vying for his signature for 2024.

Thibau Nys

Team in 2023: Trek-Segafredo (contract until 2024)

Born: 12th November 2002

Thibau Nys is one of the best U23 cyclocross riders in the world and has shown great results in road races. He finished 3rd in Antwerp Port Epic and won Fleche du Sud overall in 2022, however in 2021 the young Belgian won the European U23 Championships as a first year U23 rider whilst barely racing on the road at that time. Thibau is the son of Sven Nys, one of the greatest cyclo-cross riders of all time except Thibau is a lightweight rider for cyclo-cross and should be versatile on the road and particularly strong in the Ardennes Classics.

Nys Thibau (BEL) of Baloise Trek Lions pictured during the GP Sven Nys Cyclocross race in Baal, Leg 3 of the X2O trophee elite men . On January 1, 2023 in Baal, Belgium – Photo: Gregory van Gansen/PN/Cor Vos © 2023

Igor Arrieta

Team in 2023: Equipo Kern Pharma (contract until 2023)

Born: 8th December 2002

Igor Arrieta is the only rider on this list who is not on a World-Tour team or in a WorldTour development system like Ryan. Despite this, it seems very likely that after 2023 Arrieta will be signed by Movistar as is the case with many promising young Spanish climbers. The Kern Pharma rider caught our attention with his performance in Gran Camiño at the start of 2022, where he finished 4th in the hardest stage of the race at only 19 years old.

Lienz – Austria – cycling – Igor Arrieta (ESP – Equipo Kern Pharma) pictured during 45th Tour of the Alps (2.Pro) stage 5 from Lienz:Lienz (114.5KM – Photo: Massimo Fulgenzi/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Arrieta finished in a group with Mark Padun, Ion Izagirre and Ruben Fernandez, losing only 51 seconds on a multiple mountain stage to Alejandro Valverde, Michael Woods and Ivan Ramiro Sosa. Arrieta also performed well in the Tour of the Alps, finishing fourth from a breakaway in the last stage, beating Andrey Amador, Marco Brenner and Torstein Træen who finished 9th in Volta a Catalunya in the previous month. The young Spaniard seems to perform well on hard mountain stages so should be well adapted to races like La Vuelta. After May in 2022 his results were not that good compared to the start of the year but with the right programme and system he might become a good climber/GC rider.

Finn Fisher-Black

Team in 2023: UAE-Team Emirates (contract until 2024)

Born: 21st December 2001

Finn Fisher-Black’s 2022 season ended with a hard crash in Boucles de la Mayenne at the end of May and he makes his return in Tour Down Under in 2023. Fisher-Black is an exciting talent and is versatile for a tall rider. He performed particularly well in the final stage of Paris-Nice in 2022, where Jumbo-Visma went full-gas in cold conditions.

Zin- Switserland – – cycling – Finn Fisher-Black (NZL – UAE Team Emirates) pictured during 75th Tour de Romandie (2.UWT) stage 5 from Aigle to Villars ITT (15.84KM) – Photo: Massimo Fulgenzi/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

The main reason why Fisher-Black is on this list is his training ride at the end of 2022. On 20th December some of the UAE Team-Emirates riders did a full gas mountain race on Vall d’Ebo, however only Pogačar and Fisher-Black uploaded their rides on Strava. Fisher-Black climbed it in 16:44, while Pogačar did 16:26 (one second slower than his record set at the start of 2022 but the headwind in the December 2022 test was stronger). UAE-Team Emirates riders did the test after three hours of riding and probably spent around 2500-3000 kilojoules before the climb. Lotto-Soudal also did a training race up Vall d’Ebo in 2021 but they did it after around 1 hour and 15 minutes and 1000 kilojoules. Even with drafting this effort is impressive by Fisher-Black after three hours of training in December.

Vall d’Ebo Top 10 on Strava

Kārlis Ozols (@CyclingGraphs)

2023 Pro Cycling Calendar

The 2023 race calendar breaks with tradition by moving the World Championships to early August, between the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. This will also be the year in which an extensive calendar of races outside Europe returns, and several races will be born that will make the season more interesting. In this article, we will analyse all the changes and enable you to download the race calendar to follow the frenetic activity of the season more easily.

The Calendar

In the image, you can see the complete men’s calendar for the 2023 season, which will hopefully end on October 17 with the Tour of Guangxi, cancelled the last 3 years. We recommend downloading it in high resolution through the links below. We also provide links to download each quarter separately. The images can be printed to paste on the wall of your bedroom, for example, should you wish to absorb the glorious calendar even in the midst of sleep.

High resolution images:

Quarter 1:

In January, we have the return of the Australian races, the Vuelta a San Juan and La Tropicale Amissa Bongo, early season classics that have not been contested since 2020. In addition, the Clàssica Comunitat Valenciana is upgraded to category 1.1 (the lowest category that allows the participation of WorldTeams) and will inaugurate the season in Europe. The Grand Prix Criquielion (March 4) and the Elfstedenrace Friesland (March 5) are also promoted to category 1.1.

In the new races section, there are three new classics that will take advantage of synergies in the calendar: the Muscat Classic (February 10, one day before the start of the Tour of Oman), the Figueira Champions Classic (February 12, three days before the start of the Volta ao Algarve) and the Giro della Città Metropolitana di Reggio Calabria (April 9, two days before the start of the Giro di Sicilia). Also the Tour du Doubs (usually in September), will be brought forward to April 16 to form a triptych of one-day races in France. Thanks to their placement in the calendar, these four races will be able to attract a good participation of teams looking to optimise their logistics.

On the other hand, the Tour of Türkiye (WorldTour until 2019 and ProSeries until 2022) has been downgraded to the 2.1 category, taking away the attraction of the UCI points it was handing out. Surely, its startlist will be greatly affected by this.

Quarter 2

In the second part of the season there are no new races, but the Tour de Hongrie (May 10-14) and the Mont Ventoux Challenge (June 13) are upgraded to the ProSeries category, being able to host more WorldTeams and distributing more UCI points. Another ProSeries race, the Tour of Norway (May 26-29), will be reduced to only 4 stages compared to 6 in the previous edition. In addition, the Circuit Franco-Belge (1.Pro), usually at the end of the season, will be moved to June 28 to avoid overlapping with other races.

Anyway, the main change is the World Championships in August. This will only be the case every four years (in the Olympic year), when the “Super World Championships” will be organised, bringing road cycling together with the rest of cycling disciplines. These road World Championships will be especially strange, as the men’s elite road race will be held before the time trials and the women’s and U23 events. The Tour de France seems the best option to prepare for the men’s elite road race, as there are not many alternative races to get into the rhythm of competition.

Quarter 3

The change of dates for the World Championships has caused La Vuelta to be delayed by a week and the European Championships to take the place of the World Championships. We are likely to see a colder than normal Vuelta a España, as the race will take place in northern Spain in September. In addition, the one-week delay means that the final week of La Vuelta will overlap with a multitude of Italian and Belgian classics, which will reduce their media impact and the quality of their startlist. In this context of race saturation, the Benelux Tour, which was already cancelled in 2022, is reduced to only five stages in 2023. We will see if the race will continue to maintain WorldTour status in the future with so many organisational problems.

But there is also good news at the end of the season. The Clàssica Andorra Pirineus (September 23) and the Tour of Kyushu (October 6 to 9 in Japan) are born. The Tour of Kyushu may attract several teams that will participate the following week in the Japan Cup. In addition, the Trofeo Baracchi (October 1), organized from 1941 to 1991 and won by Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi or Jacques Anquetil, returns. This one-day race has the format of a time trial in couples, differentiating it from the other events on the cycling calendar. Also in Italy, the Giro del Veneto (October 11) and the Veneto Classic (October 15) are promoted to the ProSeries category. Both races are organised by former cyclist Filippo Pozzato.

For its part, Le Tour de Langkawi (2.Pro) will be maintained at the end of the season after last year’s success and will be linked with the Tour of Peninsular 2.1 (also in Malaysia, its only edition was in 2019). Thus, they will offer 13 days of competition combining the two races, an attraction for modest teams suffering to participate in a large calendar.

This calendar is provisional and may still be subject to cancellations or variations of dates during the season. The return of the Chinese races will depend on the pandemic situation. We wish you a happy season!

Santos Tour Down Under 2023 Preview

WorldTour Cycling is finally back in 2023 with the Santos Tour Down Under, starting with a prologue on 17th January. Due to the Covid pandemic, the race was cancelled in the previous two years and it returns with a changed parcours, without the famous Willunga Hill finish or indeed Richie Porte. This Tour Down Under is suited for versatile sprinters like Michael Matthews, Ethan Hayter and Corbin Strong and offers many hilly stages.

Provisional Start List

Data powered by FirstCycling.com

Prologue

The race will start with a short and explosive 5.5 kilometre prologue in the streets of Adelaide, ridden on road bikes. The start list includes strong time-trial specialists Magnus Sheffield, Rohan Dennis, Ethan Hayter, Luke Plapp and Geraint Thomas but prologues also suit strong sprinters and it would not be a surprise if a Micheal Matthews or Kaden Groves type rider would fight for the highest places.

Santos Tour Down Under 2023 Prologue profile by La Flamme Rouge

The route goes along the Torrens River. There is more than one sharp corner per kilometre, so road bike cornering skills might decide the winner as every second will be important.

Prologue Route

Stage 1

The first road stage will be a hilly one including five ascents of Menglers Hill (4.5 km, 3.7%) which is similar to the Poggio from Milano-Sanremo. It might be too hard for pure sprinters as Michael Matthews and Jayco-AlUla will be interested in dropping Caleb Ewan, Kaden Groves, Phil Bauhaus, Jensen Plowright and other sprinters. From the remaining fast finishers, Ethan Hayter and Corbin Strong are good climbers. Ewan looked strong in the hilly Australian Championships and also might survive as the gradients are not too steep and drafting will be important. In this Tour Down Under he will ride for the Australian National Team as Lotto-Soudal are not participating, however Ewan has his trade teammate Jarrad Drizners accompanying him for leadouts.

Santos Tour Down Under 2023 Stage 1 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 2

The following stage will be another Michael Matthews day. 22 kilometres before the finish there is the Nettle hill (2 km, 7.8%), which might be decisive as the drafting benefit on 8% gradient is reduced compared to the shallower climbs that feature in Stage 1. There are almost 2000 metres of climbing and not every sprinter will survive until the finish line.

Santos Tour Down Under 2023 Stage 2 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 3

There is no Willunga Hill in this year’s race, perhaps in honour of the king of Willunga Hill Richie Porte, who retired in 2022. Stage 3 might be the decisive GC day as it includes the hardest hill of the race, Corkscrew Road.

Santos Tour Down Under 2023 Stage 3 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Corkscrew is 2.4 kilometres long averaging 8.9%, however the middle is the steepest with a 15.1% section for 500 metres. With minimal drafting it will be a perfect spot for climbers like Jay Vine, Ben O’Connor, Simon Yates, Pello Bilbao, Jai Hindley to attack and try to drop Matthews, Hayter who will likely have earned bonus seconds in the sprint stages.

After the Corkscrew there is a shallow six kilometre descent where it will be possible for dropped riders to gain back the lost time and difficult for lightweight climbers to stay away. Matthews looked strong in the Australian Championships and if he is anywhere close to his Tour de France Mende stage level he might win this stage.

The Corkscrew has been included in 2014, 2016 and 2019 Tour Down Under editions with the same finish. In 2019 Daryl Impey won a sprint from a 20-man group beating Patrick Bevin and Luis Leon Sanchez, with the South African former GC winner of the race recently announcing this will be his last year in the pro peloton. In 2016 Simon Gerrans won from a 10-man group but in 2014 Cadel Evans was strong enough to get a gap on Corkscrew and win with a 15 second advantage over a 12-man group that finished after him. With so many strong puncheurs on the startlist and fit sprinters, the 2016 and 2019 scenarios with a 10-20 man big bunch sprint is very likely.

Daryl Impey (South Africa / Team Mitchelton – Scott) pictured during the Santos Tour Down Under – stage 4 from Unley to Campbelltown (129.2 KM) – photo Dario Belingheri/Cor Vos © 2019

Stage 4

This might be the easiest overall stage in the race. Despite the stage finishing in Willunga it does not include the famous Willunga Hill. The final kilometre averages 3.2% and should be perfect for Matthews, Groves, Hayter, Strong type sprinters although Caleb Ewan should also be able to contest for the victory after an easier stage.

Santos Tour Down Under 2023 Stage 4 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 5

The final stage will be short but with lots of climbing as the road goes up and down for the whole 114 kilometres, an early season light version of the Basque Country final stage. Despite the climbs not having severe gradients, there will be 2222 metres of climbing, which is a lot for such a short stage.

Santos Tour Down Under 2023 Stage 5 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The stage finishes up Mount Lofty (1.5 km, 6.5%) and the hard part is in the final third, however it does not appear sufficiently difficult to generate big differences in the GC. Ethan Hayter in Vuelta a Andalucia 2021 won Stage 2 which finished up Alcalá la Real (1 km, 11.5%), a much harder climb with a cobble section. Corbin Strong won an uphill finish in the Tour of Britain 2022 up the Gleenshe Ski Centre beating strong puncheurs like Omar Fraile, Tobias Haaland Johannesen, Gonzalo Serrano, Tom Pidcock and Dylan Teuns, however the stage before the climb was not as hard.

As the race is in Australia, the finishes of road stages will be around 5-6 AM (CET) when most people are sleeping in Europe.

Contenders

There are two big GC favourites according to the bookmakers. Ethan Hayter and Michael Matthews who both have around a 20-25% chance to win according to the implied odds. The reason why they are the favourites is clear. The prologue suits them more than the climbers and either of them might win it. Then there are the available bonus seconds at every stage and both Matthews and Hayter are very likely to finish in Top 3 in at least one of them. Even when the finish on Willunga Hill was included Richie Porte did not win GC on every occasion because of bonus seconds gained in sprint stages by riders like Daryl Impey and Simon Gerrans. The Corkscrew is even harder due to its steeper gradients than Willunga Hill but the remaining six kilometres after it might have a big influence on the GC, as the best climbers will need to cooperate to gain as much time as possible if Michael Matthews is dropped, which is unlikely. Matthews even has Simon Yates and Chris Harper as teammates which might be useful on Corkscrew and after it.

Ethan Hayter (GBR / Team Ineos Grenadiers) pictured during team presentation Tour Down Under 2023 in Adelaide, Australia – Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2023

Despite not winning the Australian Championships, Matthews looked very good despite recently travelling from Europe. Strong climbers like Luke Plapp, Ben O’Connor and Jay Vine are also in good shape but the course might be too easy for them to gain back crucial seconds against faster guys who will mop up bonus seconds. Magnus Sheffield, Rohan Dennis, Simon Yates, Pello Bilbao, Maximialian Schachmann, Patrick Bevin, Alberto Bettiol, Corbin Strong, Mauro Schmid are other riders who might show something in GC.

Lucas Plapp, Ineos Grenadiers, wins the Elite MenÕs Road Race pictured during 2023 Australian National Road Cycling Championships – Photo: Zac Williams/SWpix/Cor Vos © 2023

It will be interesting to see how many young riders will perform. Laurence Pithie, Finn Fisher-Black, Leo Hayter, Reuben Thompson, Jensen Plowright, Antonio Tiberi and Paul Penhoet are all 22 years old or younger and many of them will debut at World-Tour level here. For Fisher Black, this will be his first race after his horrific crash in Boucles de la Mayenne in May last year. Fisher-Black showed a promising performance in UAE’s December training camp, where he lost only 18 seconds to Tadej Pogačar up Vall d’Ebo test after already doing three hours of riding.

Prediction

My prediction is that Matthews will win the race overall due to bonus seconds and the prologue – not an original pick as he is practically the favourite to win but sometimes you have to go with the obvious choice. Matthews had great legs in the Australian Championships, has a strong team with Simon Yates, Luke Durbridge, Lucas Hamilton, Chris Harper, Michael Hepburn and Campbell Stewart and the parcours is perfect for him.

Kārlis Ozols (@CyclingGraphs)

Vuelta a España 2023 Route Analysis

La Vuelta 2023 will start on 26th August in Catalunya, a region which has not featured in the recent years of the race. The route is full of hard mountain stages that include steep climbs such as the Alto de l’Angliru, Col du Tourmalet, Javalambre, Arnisal, Xorret de Cati, Bejes and Cruz de Linares. With only 39 kilometres of time-trial this should be a race for strong climbers who can perform well after fatigue on steep gradients as some mountain stages will feature many climbing metres before the final climb. The third week will be much more difficult compared to the 2022 final stages, which should hopefully create tension right to the end of the race.

Official unveiling of the Vuelta 2023 Route

Stage 1 TTT

Once again a team trial has been chosen to start off the Vuelta and award the first red jersey, much to the dismay of Movistar and joy of teams like INEOS and Jumbo-Visma. Barcelona is one of the largest cities to host the depart of a Grand Tour in recent years and this ‘urban’ time trial, as described by the race organisers, features many corners where crucial seconds might be gained or lost.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 1 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 2

The first road stage but not made for pure sprinters like Tim Merlier and Sam Bennett who are on the provisional start list. There is more than 2500 metres of climbing and the last 5 kilometres include two hills with some sharp pinches. The stage finishes in Barcelona close to the Olympic Stadium with an uphill finish which might be made for Mads Pedersen, Danny van Poppel, Biniam Girmay type sprinters who can climb well and win on 4-6% uphill finishes.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 2 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 3

As usual in La Vuelta, in the first week there is already a climbing day. Stage 3 finishes in Andorra with the Arinsal climb (6.9 km, 8.2%) but the first two-thirds of the stage is flat or shallow gradients where a strong breakaway might be able to build an advantage. With 3486 metres of climbing the fatigue in the climbers’ legs should be significant to make some gaps on the final climb.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 3 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The perfect launching spot should be 2-3 kilometres before the finish which includes a 9.5% section. The strongest GC climbers like Primož Roglič, Enric Mas and Juan Ayuso could obtain significant time gaps of around 30 seconds on this 20 minute w/kg test.

Arsinal profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 4

Stage 4 presents another real chance for a breakaway win. The stage goes downhill from Andorra to the coastal city of Tarragona. Breakaway specialists with a fast kick should be perfect for this stage, like Magnus Cort or Michael Matthews.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 4 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 5

A very similar profile to stage 4 with 2384 metres of climbing and two climbs in the last third of the stage. This is another possible chance for a breakaway but the climbs are easier than stage 4, so sprinter teams might be more willing and capable to pull for the win, especially if they have missed out the day before and considering that there are not many chances for pure sprinters in this Vuelta.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 5 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 6

The second climbing test for GC riders, Stage 6 finishes up Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre (7.35km, 9.52%). The climb was used in La Vuelta 2019, with Miguel Angel Lopez setting a fast time of 22:39 with an estimated 6,54ᵉw/kg beating a strong field including Roglič, Valverde, Pogačar, Kuss and Quintana. Despite the moderate stage beforehand, the climb is steep enough to make big gaps in the GC group with Evenepoel taking significant time on an easier finish in the Vuelta last year on Pico Jano and Lopez gaining 54 seconds on Quintana in 2019.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 6 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 7

One of the rare pure sprinter stages with almost 1000 metres of climbing. Tim Merlier and Sam Bennett can finally be certain to battle for a stage win.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 7 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 8

Stage 8 starts in Denia and goes straight to Vall d’Ebo, one of the most famous climbs in Alicante region regularly used by Tadej Pogačar (who owns the Strava KOM), Lotto-Soudal, EOLO-Kometa and countless other teams and riders as a testing climb.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 8 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The final climb will be Xorret de Cati (3.4 km, 12.4%), a super steep and hard climb which has been used in La Vuelta multiple times. The record is owned by Eladio Jimenez who climbed it in 12 minutes and 42 seconds in the 2000 edition of La Vuelta, pushing an estimated 7,22ᵉw/kg. The final three kilometres go downhill but 3608 climbing metres and Xorret de Cati definitely will do big damage to the GC group.

Xorret de Cati profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 9

Almost definitely a breakaway stage with an uphill finish that is not steep enough to merit a team controlling the stage all day, with no big changes to the GC group expected.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 9 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 10 ITT

The only individual time-trial of La Vuelta, featuring 24.8 kilometres with 112 metres of climbing. It should suit huge time-trialists like Ganna, Bissegger and Kung, with specialists such as Van Aert and Evenepoel not expected to attend.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 10 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 11

Another unipuerto stage made for a breakaway win just like on stage 9. The final climb of La Luguna Negra (8.3 km, 5.8%) should not be hard enough to make a difference between the best GC riders.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 11 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The climb includes two longer segments with 8.5%+ gradients. The final 1.3 kilometres is the steepest but still should not be enough to make significant gaps.

La Luguna Negra profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 12

Another sprint stage for pure sprinters, finishing in the city of Zaragoza with no categorised climbs.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 12 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 13

After a few sleepy road stages to open up the second week, Stage 13 comes crashing into the rider’s consciousness with three huge French mountain passes – Col d’Aubisque (16.6 km, 7.0%), Col de Spandelles (10.4 km, 8.1%) and Col du Tourmalet (18.8km, 7.4%).

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 13 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Both Col d’Aubisque and Col de Spandelles were included in the 2022 Tour de France stage 18 which finished up Hautacam. Pogačar tested Vingegaard with hard attacks on Spandelles and then later, after not being able to drop the Dane on the climb, the Slovenian tested both their limits on the technical Spandelles descent, crashing himself.

The Tourmalet from the other direction is also included in the men’s and women’s Tour de France in 2023. It is a 50 minute consistently steep climb and should produce big changes in the GC. Thibaut Pinot in the 2019 Tour climbed Tourmalet in 51:10 minutes, beating Kruijswijk, Alaphilippe, Buchmann and Bernal by a few seconds.

Col du Tourmalet profile by La Flamme Rouge

Although this stage is only 135.8 kilometres long, it includes a whopping 4282 climbing metres – 31,53 metres climbed per kilometre. The mountain passes before Tourmalet should do some damage although the 19 kilometre false flat valley between the end of Spandelles descent and the start of Tourmalet might preclude any early attacks. Regardless, the accumulated fatigue might cause some GC favourites to crack on Tourmalet and lose minutes.

Stage 14

Another climbing day but the Puerto de Belague uphill finish (9.4 km, 6.3%) is not as hard a finish as the gruelling Tourmalet. On this stage it is the penultimate climb that is the hardest, with the Col d’Erroymendi averaging 9.1% gradient for 10.3 km – perhaps leading to early attacks.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 14 profile by La Flamme Rouge

If the GC group is still together on the final climb, the final kilometres averaging below 5%,may discourage attacks even after such a hard day. A satellite rider in the final kilometres might be useful but do not expect huge GC action on this day.

Stage 15

Stage 15 will almost certainly be a breakaway win, particularly coming after two of the hardest stages in the entire race. The final 40 kilometres include two ascents of Puerto de Zuarrarrate (6.5 km, 5.1%), which will decide the winner of a stage or instead serve to thin out the break for a small group sprint in Lekunberri.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 15 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 16

Yet another simple stage with a w/kg test to finish up the nasty Bejes climb (4.7km, 8.7%). At only 119.4 kilometres in length this stage should be finished in less than three hours.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 16 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The average gradient of the final climb might be misleading as there is a 6-7% steep middle section, while the final part if the hardest one with gradients reaching over 10%. If the stage is clearly going to the breakaway (with the accompanying bonus seconds) then the GC riders might want to save legs for the following stage’s finish which is much more difficult.

Stage 17

One of the hardest climbs in all of professional cycling will be featured on stage 17. Altu de l’Angliru has been used many times in La Vuelta and has produced iconic moments, such as Chris Horner’s defeat of Vincenzo Nibali in 2013.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 17 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The final part of Angliru is what makes it extremely difficult. 6,3 kilometres of 13,95% gradient is most cyclists’ worst nightmare. It will be almost impossible to beat Roberto Heras record time of 41 minutes, with the Spaniard doing an estimated 6,57ᵉw/kg for 41 min in 2000, one of the greatest pure climbing performances of the last twenty years. Hugh Carthy set a strong time in the 2020 Vuelta with 42:40 min, in cooler November conditions. Anything below 42:30 min this year would be exceptional and would surely lead to huge time gains on GC.

Alto de l’Angliru profile by. La Flamme Rouge

Stage 18

There are no easy days between stage 13 and 18, with another hard day in the saddle that could decide the GC. The 4624 metres of climbing and steep gradients, coming right after the Angliru stage, will be very hard.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 18 profile by La Flamme Rouge

The stage ends with Cruz de Linares (8.3 km, 8.5%). It is a perfect climb to gain time as the first part of it is very steep with an average gradient of 10% in the starting four kilometres. Satellite riders might be very useful after the steep gradients to gain time over opposition who are dropped and isolated.

Cruz de Linares profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 19

There might be only a few sprinters left at this moment after multiple hard mountain days for over a week. A token offering to merit the pain of the Angliru for sprinters.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 19 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 20

This is an attempt to create chaos on stage 20 by the organisers, which has been successful in the past. In 2021 the medium mountain stage design worked as INEOS Grenadiers had the team power to pace hard on the climbs, some of which were steeper than in 2023. Despite many hills, maybe 4-6% gradients are too easy to make big splits in the GC group and there is a chance this stage might be boring from a GC perspective like stage 20 in 2022. Without a strong team which is interested in blowing up everything there should not be fireworks.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 20 profile by La Flamme Rouge

Stage 21

Another reason for sprinters to continue after stage 12 as there are two flat days in the final week.

Vuelta a España 2023 Stage 21 profile by La Flamme Rouge

A very mountainous course with few time trial kilometres is catered towards the climbers, such as Enric Mas and Jonas Vingegaard. Frequent 10 to 15 minute w/kg tests at the end of moderate stages are also common in this parcours, which should suit the punchier GC riders like Ayuso and Roglic, the latter of whom has thrived on such stages for years.

Aike Visbeek: “UAE offered Biniam Girmay two or three times more than we could offer”

Intermarché – Circus – Wanty was one of the best performing teams in the 2022 road race season, clinching a top 5 spot in the 2022 UCI WorldTour Team ranking. Behind the scenes a lot has changed in the team since it bought CCC’s UCI license back in 2020. In the latest episode of the Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, Patrick Broe sat down with Aike Visbeek, Performance Manager of Intermarché – Circus – Wanty, to review the team’s 2022 season and discuss changes the team has made to create a high-performance environment. Below are some key excerpts from that interview.

Why he Joined Intermarché – Circus – Wanty

At the time of joining Intermarché, Visbeek was still under contract as Director with the now folded SEG Racing Academy, one of the most renowned development teams in cycling that supported riders like Thymen Arensman and Daan Hoole. Before joining the Racing Academy, Visbeek was part of a very successful seven year stint with Team Sunweb. He helped the team set up a sprint train and strategy for Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, which ended up having one of the best strike rates during a golden era of sprinters that included Greipel and Cavendish. During the 2015 season Visbeek’s focus changed to Grand Tours as Tom Dumoulin quickly rose to the top of the team with an unexpected performance in La Vuelta, leading the General Classification up until the 20th stage. Two years later Sunweb managed to win the 2017 Giro with Dumoulin, beating Nairo Quintana and Vincenzo Nibali for the top podium spot.

With such a background in team management, it is clear that Visbeek would have many choices if he chose to return to WorldTour management. When asked why he chose Intermarché in 2021, Visbeek stated that the opportunities he would have within the team to make an impact on performance was a key consideration.

I realised there was a golden opportunity to build something from scratch

Aike Visbeek

Fighting the odds of Relegation

In the winter of 2020/2021 the future of Intermarché – Circus – Wanty was not looking bright. The team was heading towards relegation, having a low number of UCI points acquired from CCC, the budget being on the lower end of WorldTour and an ageing roster of riders not expected to grab massive amounts of points. Visbeek attributes planning and an increased focus on performance culture as key for the improved performance and Intermarché’s eventual safety from relegation.

The big shift I made was to work with year plans rather than month-by-month

Aike Visbeek

Visbeek states that every winter during the off-season in 2020 and 2021 he would prepare a presentation for the riders regarding the relegation battle.

I wanted the riders to understand, how does it work, what is our situation and what are our focus points.

Aike Visbeek

By May in 2022 the team had accumulated so many points that Visbeek was able to tell the riders “this is not a point any more, congratulations, we are going to be in the WorldTour.”

The signing of Biniam Girmay

The breakout star of Intermarché – Circus – Wanty in 2022 was Biniam Girmay, winning Gent-Wevelgem in a four man sprint and taking a Giro stage win in an uphill drag sprint head to head against Mathieu van der Poel. The young Eritrean was signed by the team after the folding of French ProTeam DELKO, where he still had a contract for the next three seasons.

Fayence – France – wielrennen – cycling – cyclisme – radsport – Biniam Ghirmay Hailu (Delko) pictured during the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var – Stage 2 from Fayence to Fayence 168.9KM – photo William Cannarella/Cor Vos © 2021

Girmay had already caught people’s eyes during his years as a Junior. He became one of the few juniors to beat a very talented Remco Evenepoel, by winning the first stage of Aubel-Thimister-Stavelot, however early in 2021 he was without a WorldTour contract. Early in Visbeek’s tenure he prepared a list of possible young riders the team needed to target in the transfer market:

When you have the smallest budget…and have to constantly hire good riders, you really spend a lot more money.

Aike Visbeek

The signing of Girmay was on top of Visbeek’s list. Before DELKO folded Visbeek had already made an attempt to get Girmay on the team, but his contract did not have a clause for possible departure to a WorldTeam. Once Intermarché heard rumours begin to spread of a possible folding of the French team, Visbeek gave it another shot. He states that by having a plan, a structured organisation and a team that would feel like a familiar environment, Biniam chose to sign with Intermarché over UAE Team Emirates despite them offering two to three times more salary.

Catch the full episode on all major podcast platforms or on Spotify below.

The Top 10 riders who Benefit from the New UCI Points System

Right before Christmas the UCI announced a new points system which will be in effect from 2023. It will change how many teams target races, especially Grand Tours, where points for individual stages have been increased significantly. Whilst we explained last week how the new points are distributed, in this article we will analyse which riders might gain the most from this adjusted system.

In a nutshell, the Grand Tours, Monuments, World Championships, Olympic Games and WorldTour Stage Race individual stages have become way more valuable than before, with their increased market share in 2023 depicted below.

The biggest difference is in the Grand Tour stages. Each Tour de France stage will offer 910 UCI points (excluding the 25 points offered for wearing the leader’s jersey), while the old system only provided 215 points for just the first five placements. A huge increase as now finishers from 6th to 15th place are also rewarded with points.

11th in a Tour stage in 2023 receives the same points as third in 2022 (25 points)

Wout van Aert

If more points are being dished out at the most prestigious races then it makes sense that the most consistent riders at WorldTour level will see increased points totals. From that pool of riders, one of the biggest recipients of a UCI points boost might be Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert, despite only racing in 48 race days in 2022. With Van Aert’s sprint, time trial and climbing, he was able to finish in the top three riders in eight Tour de France stages as well as in the top three riders in six out of eight Paris-Nice stages. In the Monuments and World Championships, Van Aert’s major targets, the points have increased by a factor of 1.6x. In contrast, the points for the General Classification in Grand Tours have only increased by a factor of 1.3x, whilst Van Aert appears to have shelved any GC ambition for the time being, solely targeting stages and classics in 2022.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 4565 vs 6305 (+1740 points, +38,1%)

Hautacam – France – cycling – Van Aert Wout (BEL) of Team Jumbo-Visma )pictured during 109th Tour de France (2.UWT) stage 18 Lourdes > Hautacam (143KM) – Photo: Vincent Kalut/PN/Cor Vos © 2022

Fred Wright

Fred Wright might be the ideal beneficiary of the new UCI points system, despite not having won a professional race. The increases in the new system are relatively larger for placements in the top 3 or top 10 in stage races, rather than winning, which rewards versatile riders like Wright who can compete in breakaways on almost all Grand Tour parcours. In the Vuelta 2022 Wright finished in the top 10 in seven stages, earning only 144 points whereas in 2023 he would have earned 695 points (a 383% increase).

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 435 vs 1339 (+904, +207,8%)

Lausanne – France – Suisse – cycling – Wright Fred (GBR) of Bahrain – Victorious in action pictured during 109th Tour de France (2.UWT) stage 8 Dole > Lausanne (184KM) – Photo: Nico Vereecken/PN/Cor Vos © 2022

Mads Pedersen

Are you noticing a theme yet? As with Wright and Van Aert, Pedersen is also capable of climbing extremely well for a sprinter. The new system rewards versatile riders like him who can survive hard stages or uphill finishes as he proved in the Vuelta Stage 16, which finished up Tomares (the stage where Primož Roglič crashed out). Pedersen also finished in the Top 10 in two Monuments in 2022 as well as often finishing in 2nd and 3rd place in Grand Tour or WorldTour level stages from the breakaway or a flat bunch sprint. Similarly to Pedersen, Jasper Philipsen can survive harder stages and the full three weeks of a Grand Tour, with his six stage podium placements in Le Tour 2021 earning him only 225 points compared to 780 points in 2023.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 1778 vs 3154 (1376, +77,4%)

Tomares – Spain – cycling – Mads Pedersen (Denmark / Team Trek – Segafredo) – Danny Van Poppel (Netherlands / Team Bora – hansgrohe) and the crash of Primoz Roglic (Slovenia / Team Jumbo-Visma)pictured during 77th La Vuelta ciclista a Espa–a (2.UWT) – stage 16 Sanlœcar de Barrameda > Tomares (189.4km) – Photo: Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2022

Biniam Girmay

Biniam is not an elite pure bunch sprinter but he proved in the Giro d’Italia that he can at least finish in the Top 5 in stages designed for the Sam Bennett / Fabio Jakobsen type riders. He can also target breakaways, survive hard climbs and compete from small bunch sprints as he did in Napoli and Jesi. He earned 168 points from the Giro but with the new system it would have been 590 as Biniam finished 2x 4th and 2x 5th in other stages, despite leaving early after injuring his eye in the infamous cork incident. However, as you can see below, this increase in Giro points accounts for the vast majority of Biniam’s overall points difference between the new systems, as the majority of the rest of his schedule involved non-Monument WorldTour classics, which have had their points allocation largely unchanged.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 1900 vs 2425 (525, +27,6%)

Jesi – Italy – cycling – Biniam Girmay (ERI – IntermarchŽ – Wanty – Gobert MatŽriaux) – Mathieu Van Der Poel (NED – Alpecin – Fenix) – Vincenzo Albanese (ITA – EOLO – Kometa) – Wilco Kelderman (Netherlands / Team Bora – hansgrohe) pictured during 105th Giro dÕItalia 2022 – (2.UWT) – stage 10 from Pescara to Jesi (196KM) – Photo: Roberto Bettini/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Lennard Kämna

The consistent breakaway specialists might see the biggest relative increase in their points. Kämna in 2022 was the best breakaway rider in the world, winning breakaways in Vuelta a Andalucia, Tour of the Alps and Giro d’Italia. In the Tour de France, Kämna was the best from the breakaway on the Super Planche des Belles Filles stage but at the final kilometre Pogačar and Vingegaard caught the German. In the coming stages Kämna was the favourite to win from each breakaway but in the end it was a curse as everyone worked against him on Megeve, knowing he was the strongest rider. With the old system Kämna earned only 15 points in the Tour for holding on to fourth in the Super Planche des Belles Filles stage and 100 points in the Giro for winning on Etna. With the new system he would have earned from stages 160 points in the Tour and 350 in the Giro – almost five times more points.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 435 vs 835 (400, +92,0%)

Etna – Siicilia – Italy – cycling – Lennard Kamna (GER – Bora – Hansgrohe) – Juan Pedro Lopez (ESP – Trek – Segafredo) pictured during 105th Giro dÕItalia 2022 – (2.UWT) – stage 4 from Avola to Etna (172KM) – Photo: Roberto Bettini/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Joao Almeida

This may seem an odd inclusion on this list because Almeida is a GC rider and the points for GC only increased in Grand Tours, however Almeida consistently finishes in the Top 10 in stages without winning them. Riders who consistently finish at the fringes of the top 5 in Grand Tour stages might actually receive a larger relative increase in points from these changes compared to habitual winners. In the 2022 Giro Almeida earned a combined four points for finishing fifth up Blockhaus and his nine other top 15 placements. With the new system it would have been 265 points – 66 times more points from stages alone. The same pattern occurred in the Vuelta, where Almeida earned just 12.5 points from a multitude of top 15 placements compared to 209.5 points under the new system. Other GC riders, such as Enric Mas, who lack a strong sprint but are extremely strong throughout a Grand Tour, will also benefit from the changes.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 1252,5 vs 1887,5 (+635, +50,7%)

Cogne – Italy – cycling – Joao Almeida (POR – UAE Team Emirates) pictured during 105th Giro dÕItalia 2022 – (2.UWT) – stage 15 from Rivarolo Canavese to Cogne (177KM) – Photo: Luca Bettini/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Ethan Hayter

Ethan Hayter is another versatile rider that can finish Top 5 in time-trials, bunch sprints, uphill sprints and potentially from breakaways. However in 2022 he would not have gained many more points under the new system as he only competed in one Monument and half of La Vuelta. If Hayter gets a free role on INEOS in a Grand Tour like Richard Carapaz in the 2022 Vuelta, he is capable of scoring many points for finishing Top 5 from breakaways.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 1203 vs 1526,25 (+323,25, +26,9%)

Echallens – Switserland – – cycling – Ethan Hayter (GBR – INEOS Grenadiers) – Jon Aberasturi (ESP – Trek – Segafredo) pictured during 75th Tour de Romandie (2.UWT) stage 2 from Echallens to Echallens ((168,2KM) – Photo: Massimo Fulgenzi/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Primož Roglič

General classification riders with world class punch will be heavily rewarded under the new system for their consistent placements on punchy finishes or in small groups on mountain stages. Roglič, alongside compatriot Tadej Pogačar, has been the archetype of such a rider for the last few years, achieving over 100 WorldTour Stage top 15s since 2019.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 1660.5 vs 2362.5 (+702, +42.3%)

Arrate – Spain – cycling -Primoz Roglic (Slovenia / Team Jumbo-Visma) pictured during 61st Itzulia Basque Country (2.UWT) stage 6 between Eibar and Arrate (135.7KM) – Photo: Luis Angel Gomez/SCA/Cor Vos © 2022

Peter Sagan

Sagan in recent years has been far from his best, but he can still perform well enough to place in the top 10 in big races, finishing seventh in the World Championships Road Race, winning a Tour de Suisse stage and finishing five times in the top six in Tour de France stages. If Sagan can stay healthy and hit reasonable form next year he should massively help TotalEnergies in their fight for a Wild Card for 2024 and promotion in 2026. For maximising his points haul, the French outfit should send Sagan to all Spring Monuments (except for Liege), the first half of the Giro d’Italia and the entirety of the Tour de France. When Sagan was at his peak from 2011 to 2018 he would have gained many extra points under the new system as he usually finished in the top five in many races/stages like Van Aert does today.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 468 vs 918 (+450, +96,2%)

La Super Planche des Belles Filles – France – cycling – Peter Sagan (Slovakia / Team TotalEnergies – Total) pictured during 109th Tour de France (2.UWT) stage 7 Tomblaine > La Super Planche des Belles Filles (176KM) – Photo: Szymon Gruchalski/Cor Vos © 2022

Tadej Pogačar

Pogačar is the rider who would have earned the most extra points from the UCI changes given his 2022 results. The Slovenian superstar can practically do everything at an elite level in every race on the calendar and always targets the profitable Monuments and Tour de France. With a lead-out, he could even consistently finish in the top 10 in Tour de France sprint stages if he cared to try, like he showed in Stage 19 to Cahors where he finished fifth behind Laporte.

In 2022 he earned a monstrous 5171 points despite skipping Liege-Bastogne-Liege and not riding a second Grand Tour. Under the new system he would have scored 7261 points, an extra 2090 points owing to 1285 from Tour de France alone and 805 from other races such as Lombardia. With a close to perfect season in 2023, it is possible that Pogacar might earn over 9000 points if he does two Grand Tours and four Monuments.

2022 UCI points with the old vs new system: 5171 vs 7261 (+2090, +40.4%)

Hautacam – France – cycling – Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia / UAE-Team Emirates) pictured during 109th Tour de France (2.UWT) stage 18 Lourdes > Hautacam (143KM) – Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2022

Conclusion

The new system will benefit the top teams like UAE Emirates and Jumbo-Visma who perform across multiple Monuments and Grand Tours with their top riders. The second tier of versatile sprinters, such as Michael Matthews, Fred Wright and Peter Sagan should see the biggest relative gains as they are rewarded better for top 10 placements in WorldTour racing. Consistent breakaway specialists like Lennard Kämna will also be more valuable for points rather than just wins.

For teams like Lotto-DSTNY, who need to focus on points in 2023 to secure their 2024 automatic wildcards, this means that sending Arnaud de Lie to a race program laden with 1.Pro and 1.1 races will not be as profitable as it was in 2022, with second in a Vuelta or Giro stage providing more points than winning a 1.1 race. For a sprinter of his calibre, placing consistently in the top three in Vuelta sprints should not present too much of a challenge, and is potentially more profitable for points (and better for sponsors) than attending three or four 1.1 races during the same period. If indeed we do see De Lie at his first Grand Tour in 2023, it will likely be an intended consequence of these changes which incentivise teams to send their best riders to the biggest races.