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A tricky, hilly grand départ and an early visit to the mountains in the opening week of the 2023 Tour de France will make for a “much more interesting” race, according to two-time former champion Tadej Pogačar.
Race organizer ASO unveiled the 21 stages of next year’s edition with two tough hilly stages in the Basque Country to open the race. With the transition into France following the Spanish start to take the riders through the Pyrenées, the mountains arrive early.
Stage 5 will take the riders over the Col de Soudet and the Marie Blanque, while stage 6 includes the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet. It is the earliest visit to the high mountains since the 1981 Tour de France.
“I really like the course, the first stages are really hard, and the third week is really, really hard, so it’s going to be fun, I think. I cannot wait for July,” Pogačar said following the route announcement. “I think it’s good that early in the Tour will come the harder stages and it makes it so much more interesting.”
After two straight victories at his first two attempts at the Tour de France, Pogačar was unseated from his throne as the race’s champion this year when Jonas Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma forced some rare errors from the UAE Team Emirates rider.
Having lost hold of the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, Pogačar is keen not to do it again and plans to come out swinging in 2023.
“I’m really motivated to win it again and we will try to do everything we can to win it,” he said. “We will see how the other teams will race. It’s really hard from here to see the shape, but I would love to continue to race like this, attacking always. The Tour de France maybe sometimes you need to wait until the final, but we will see.”
The early mountains is not the only connection to the 1980s in next year’s Tour route with a return to the Puy de Dôme on the cards. The dormant volcano was last raced by the Tour’s peloton in 1988 with environmental concerns, as well as the construction of a railway, hampering attempts to return.
In 1964, it was the scene of a historic battle between Raymond Poulidor and Jacque Anquetil, while Eddy Merckx will remember the 1975 ascent as he was punched in the stomach by a spectator.
Pogačar would not be born for another 20 years after that final ascent in the 80s and he’s looking forward to discovering the new — at least to him — climb.
“I don’t know a lot, but it looks like a really tough climb. I expect it to be a tough finish there and a battle for the GC. It looks like a nice climb, it will be my first time there,” Pogačar said. “When the snow melts in the Pyrenees and the Alps, we will start to do the recons.”
The other notable news from the route announcement was the dearth of time trialing kilometers with just one race against the clock in the final week. The 22km route takes the riders along an undulating parcours with an uphill finish on the Côte de Domancy in Combloux.
While Pogačar might have been happier with more, he only needed one time trial in 2020 to upend the overall classification.
“It looks like a really interesting time trial, which I should like, it’s going to be a GC battle on the TT,” he said.