Racing the Tour de France is the pinnacle of achievement for any professional cyclist and in the 2023 edition – which kicks off on Saturday in Bilbao, Spain – 36 of the 176 starters are competing in the Grand Boucle for the first time.
That might sound like a big number but it’s the shortest list of newcomers since 2019 when there were just 33 debutants.
Just because a rider hasn’t raced the Tour de France before doesn’t mean they come into the Tour without ambition. In 2020, Tadej Pogačar made his debut and won the race. It was a feat previously accomplished by only eight other riders including Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Laurent Fignon.
It is slightly more common for first-timers to land on the podium. Jan Ullrich, Greg LeMond and, more recently, Jonas Vingegaard made the top three in their first appearance at the Tour.
Will we see another debutant on the podium in 2023? It is entirely possible given the quality of the list. In addition to a few quality general classification contenders, the list also includes sprinters and stage hunters.
We’ve taken a look at the confirmed and expected list of debutants at this year’s Tour and picked out some of the most interesting riders to watch.
It may be a first Tour de France for Jai Hindley, but with a victory in the 2022 Giro d’Italia and a course that plays to his strengths, the Australian rider will be one of the closely watched first-timers at the race.
The climb-heavy and low time-trial kilometre route presents an ideal scenario for Hindley, who doesn’t count the race against the clock among his strengths – he lost the lead in the final time trial stage of the Giro in 2020.
So compelling is the configuration of the 2023 edition of the Tour de France that the 27-year-old skipped the defence of his Giro d’Italia title to take on a Tour which presented a parcours that “might not ever be as good for me again“.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) are considered a level above all others when it comes to the pursuit of yellow, however Hindley is high up among the next group of favourites in the charged battle for a place on the final podium. What’s more he will have a strong team behind him, including the experience of Emanuel Buchmann, who finished fourth in the 2019 Tour de France and just picked up the German road race national title.
Ineos come to the Tour de France with options – Egan Bernal, the 2019 Tour champion and winner of the 2021 Giro d’Italia, returns for the first time after his horrific head-first run-in with a stopped city bus in Colombia in January of 2022. He is ostensibly the team’s leader but among those standing in the wings for the British squad is Spaniard Carlos Rodríguez.
The 22-year-old is the youngest of all the debutantes in this year’s Tour, and while he is less experienced than Bernal or Dani Martínez, he’s already proven himself with top 10s in the Vuelta a España (2022) and this year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, where he won the Best Young Riders’ classification.
Rodríguez signed with Ineos straight out of the junior ranks in 2020 and, after a solid season of learning the ropes, finished fourth in the 2021 Ruta del Sol, and won a stage, the mountains and youth classification in the Tour de l’Avenir.
2022 was another leap forward as Rodríguez landed podiums in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and Route d’Occitanie, a stage in the Itzulia Basque Country, the Spanish road title, and seventh place in his first Grand Tour at the Vuelta. More importantly, he showed consistency throughout the Spanish tour, only being nudged out of the top 10 when a breakaway stuck on stage 5.
It looks like 2023 will be yet another step up for the talented climber and what better venue to make that leap than the biggest stage in all of cycling – the Tour de France.
Biniam Girmay (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty)
Biniam Girmay, 23, isn’t the top sprinter racing the Tour de France this year – he will have to be on superb form and have a well-oiled lead-out to beat pure fastmen like Fabio Jakobsen, Jasper Philipsen, or Mark Cavendish. However, he excels at getting over climbs that other sprinters can’t tackle, putting him in the same leagues as Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe.
Girmay’s strengths lie in the tough Classics-like finishes such as Gent-Wevelgem – where he scored his breakthrough victory in 2022 – or stage 10 of the Giro d’Italia where he beat rival Van der Poel in a punchy finish in Jesi and made history.
Hailing from Eritrea, Girmay attracts huge masses of flag-waving compatriots wherever he races, and has nothing but promise in his Tour de France debut.
A winner of another tough stage of the Tour de Suisse this month and an even harder stage of the Volta a la Valenciana in February, Girmay isn’t just a talent – he’s a personality. Add in the enthusiasm of his fans and his story is tailor-made for a second season of the Netflix Unchained series, one where he scores at least one stage win in his Tour debut.
Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek)
Lidl-Trek (neé Trek-Segafredo) have been quietly and patiently allowing the talent of the 22-year-old Dane Mattias Skjelmose Jensen to blossom over the last two seasons, rather than thrust him into the limelight too soon.
Skjelmose raced his first Grand Tour in the Giro d’Italia last year in a supporting role alongside best young rider Juan Pedro López and Giulio Ciccone. When not playing understudy, he excelled in ProSeries races, winning the Tour of Luxembourg and finishing third overall in the Tour de la Provence (also Best Young Rider and second to Nairo Quintana at Montagne de Lure), Tour de Wallonie, and Tour of Denmark.
In those results, he proved to be a tenacious climber and a strong time trialist so it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise when he opened the 2023 season with stage wins in Etoile de Bessèges (2nd overall) and Tour des Alpes (5th overall and points classification).
However, landing a second place in La Flèche Wallonne behind Pogačar definitely brought him onto the radar of the oddsmakers. A stunning overall victory in the Tour de Suisse with a win on stage 3, second at La Punt and, after the tragedy of Gino Mäder’s death, a brilliant time trial just one second shy of Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), has rocketed Skjelmose up the favourites rankings for the Tour de France.
Trek have López and Ciccone as more seasoned GC contenders, and Mads Pedersen with green jersey ambitions. But Skjelmose has a buzz around him and will most certainly be a rider to watch.
There were rewards for Team DSM when, through 2021 and 2022, when they gave Alberto Dainese the chance to chase sprint victories at his debut at each of the Grand Tours. He swept up three podium placings at the Vuelta a España, a first at the 2022 Giro d’Italia – a result he repeated this year – and also a podium placing at the Tour de France.
It’s no wonder then, with their first-timer history, that the squad are prepared to give another debuting rider a chance to lead their sprint team, with the 27-year-old Sam Welsford riding not only his first Tour de France, but also his opening Grand Tour. The Australian, who is in his second year on the WorldTour, made it clear that he feels ready to take the next step in his development.
Welsford stepped through from success on the track – including Olympic and Commonwealth Games medals and World titles – to hard-fought podiums and victories on the road. A Grand Tour is the next big step, and the Tour de France the biggest of them all.
Welsford has delivered three victories so far this year and, among other podium placings, a second place at Scheldeprijs, known as the unofficial sprinters’ World Championships. He’s a rider that has plenty of years of experience handling intense pressure, has shown he can go toe to toe with the best sprinters in the world and the final question though is how he stacks up over three weeks. We are about to find out.
Tobias Johannessen (Uno-X) has not had quite the momentum this season as Skjelmose or Rodríguez but has been following a similar trajectory.
Winner of the Tour de l’Avenir in 2021 with a commanding summit stage win on Grand Colombier, Johannessen won the Mont Bouquet stage of Etoile de Bésseges in 2022 and was the best young rider in the Dauphiné last year.
Johannessen’s season was cut short by knee problems that led to surgery and he had a slower start this year. However, a top 10 in the Tour of Norway showed his recovery and form were progressing and a third place on stage 5 of the Dauphiné behind Vingegaard and Alaphilippe puts Johannessen on the radar of debutantes to watch.
Tour de France debutants for 2023
* = young riders
- Clément Berthet (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team
- Felix Gall (Aut) AG2R Citroën Team *
- Quinten Hermans (Bel) Alpecin-Deceuninck
- Yevgeniy Fedorov (Kaz) Astana Qazaqstan *
- Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
- Jai Hindley (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
- Jordi Meeus (Bel) Bora-Hansgrohe *
- Alexis Renard (Fra) Cofidis *
- Axel Zingle (Fra) Cofidis *
- James Shaw (GBr) EF Education-EasyPost
- Lars van den Berg (Ned) Groupama-FDJ *
- Carlos Rodriguez (Esp) Ineos Grenadiers *
- Ben Turner (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers *
- Biniam Girmay (Eri) Intermarché-Circus-Wanty *
- Corbin Strong (NZl) Israel-Premier Tech *
- Pascal Eenkhoorn (Ned) Lotto Dstny
- Maxim Van Gils (Bel) Lotto Dstny *
- Antonio Pedrero (Spa) Movistar Team
- Jenthe Biermans (Bel) Team Arkéa-Samsic
- Clément Champoussin (Fra) Team Arkéa-Samsic *
- Simon Guglielmi (Fra) Team Arkéa-Samsic
- Matthew Dinham (Aus) Team DSM *
- Alex Edmondson (Aus) Team DSM
- Sam Welsford (Aus) Team DSM
- Chris Harper (Aus) Team Jayco-AlUla
- Elmar Reinders (Ned) Team Jayco-AlUla
- Valentin Ferron (Fra) TotalEnergies *
- Juan Pedro Lopez (Spa) Lidl-Trek
- Mattias Skjelmose Jensen (Den) Lidl-Trek *
- Jonas Abrahamsen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
- Anthon Charmig (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team *
- Jonas Gregaard (Den) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
- Tobias Halland Johannessen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team *
- Rasmus Tiller (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
- Torstein Træen (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling Team
- Søren Wærenskjold Uno-X Pro Cycling Team *