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Tour de France - Cycling: Can Vuelta a Espana champion Evenepoel win the Tour?

Grand Tour winners seem to be getting younger, with 22-year-old Remco Evenepoel having wrapped up victory in the Vuelta a Espana on Sunday.

The Belgian wunderkind took the leader's jersey after Stage 5 and didn't look back, winning the individual time-trial from Elche to Alicante and the mountain day to Alto del Piornal.

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team's Evenepoel is now being talked up for a Tour debut next July and judging by recent winners, his age should not hold him back at La Grande Boucle.

What

Tour de France 2023

Where

France and Spain

When

1st July - 24th July 2023

Odds

Jonas Vingegaard 6/4, Tadej Pogacar 7/4, Remco Evenepoel 3/1, Primoz Roglic 7/1 

Age appears to be just a number

Received wisdom previously suggested that winning Grand Tours was a numbers game and it was all about having hard-earned kilometres in the legs.

Similar to marathon runners, riders seemed to mature into being three-week racers, but training methods, nutritional improvements and the simple fact that competitors seem to be starting younger has changed all of that.

UAE Team Emirates Tadej Pogacar was just 21 when he won his Tour in 2020, marking him out as the second youngest winner after Henri Cornet in 1904.

Egan Bernal had won it a year earlier at 22 for Team Ineos and since the Colombian's colleague, Geraint Thomas, won the Tour in 2018, three-time Vuelta champion Primoz Roglic is the only rider over 30 to have won a three-week race.

They keep getting younger too, with big things expected of Spaniard Juan Ayuso after his third in the Vuelta at just 19.

In a similar mould to Bernal, Ineos colleague Carlos Rodriguez, 21, is backed to make his Tour debut next July after his seventh-place finish in the Vuelta.

Revitalised rivals

Roglic crashed out of the recent race and despite taking the red jersey after winning Stage 4, he did not look at his best after being taken out of the Tour in similar circumstances.

He will be 33 when the 2023 Tour rolls out in Bilbao and may feel it is his last chance to finally wear the yellow jersey into Paris.

However, he will first need to beat his Jumbo-Visma team-mate Jonas Vingegaard who dominated in 2022, while Pogacar will be desperate to show he can respond to the first real setback of his career.

Bernal is also sure to have the race as his target after recovering from a career-threatening training crash earlier in the year.

The Colombian is yet to declare his goals for his return and will arguably need to come back stronger, with his pre-crash time-trialling short of the standard set by Evenepoel, Pogacar and Vingegaard.

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Route could be decisive

Evenepoel's Vuelta victory was also remarkable in that it marked his first general classification victory in any stage race.

Throughout his young career he has shown he can compete across all disciplines on the road. Crucially his Vuelta success demolished any doubts over his ability to compete in the high mountains - him having crashed out of his maiden Grand Tour, the 2021 Giro d'Italia - and shown he can race across three weeks.

However, the Tour is a step up in intensity and velocity and the route is sure to be fantastic for spectators when you consider the 110th Tour starts in the Basque country, the second time it has done so after 1992.

A couple of hilly stages get things going before a flat ride into a yet-to-be-determined French finish town. Will the organisers choose to send the race into the Pyrenees, or will they keep them for either the middle week or the final stages?

Evenepoel, Vingegaard and Pogacar facing off in the mountains in the final week could be sensational, while all three will not be fazed if they have the chance to win the Tour heading into the penultimate day's time-trial.

Evenepoel has come back from his own crash in 2020 and the calibre of his recent performance suggests that Quick-Step finally have a bona fide GC rider for the Tour.

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