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Five riders to watch on the Tour de France

The Tour de France starts Saturday for a 21-day adventure along a route designed to shake up the old order.

Here AFP Sport takes a look at some of the riders who may shine along the 3,404km race to Paris designed for explosive sporting action.

Hunter or hunted

Former fish factory worker and defending champion Jonas Vingegaard cruised to victory in the Tour de France warm up race the Criterium du Dauphine saying he wasn’t on top form. His forte would appear to be racing his own race with a long-term strategy. The Jumbo leader says he might be the target but “I’ll be hunting too”, promising to tail his key rival and the 2020 and 2021 champion Tadej Pogacar everywhere.

Jasper the disaster

Belgian sprinter Jasper Philipsen shot into the limelight celebrating wildly when crossing the finish line unaware that Wout van Aert had crossed the line over a minute earlier in a stage last year. A recent Netflix series documenting that Tour then labelled him with the nickname Jasper the disaster, much to his horror. But Philipsen however is possibly the hottest sprinter on the roster ahead of Mark Cavendish and Dylan Groenewegen. There are six sprint stages on the 2023 race, including the Champs Elysees, where he won in 2022.

Dark horse

Could one Dane be hiding another, after all Slovenia’s Primoz Rogic looked set for victory in 2021 before his younger compatriot Pogacar stole in for the title on stage 20. The 22-year-old Mattias Skjelmose of Lidl-Trek is already Danish champion and the mountainous 2023 Tour route suits him perfectly. “I’m on top form and come here with very high hopes,” Skjelmose said Friday. Skjelmose also won the recent Tour of Switzerland against a competitive field.

French hope

Fourth placed at last year’s Tour FDJ rider David Gaudu is one of a trident of French hopes on his team alongside veteran climber Thibaut Pinot and Valentin Madouas. Gaudu also came second at Paris-Nice this year. Gaudu is the most likely candidate to become the first French champion since 1985 when Bernard Hinault won for a fifth time.

Holding his horses

Tadej Pogacar won twice before a narrow miss last year was put down to showmanship. The 24-year-old Slovenian just could not resist going for stage wins when he might have been better nursing his resources. Having broken a wrist in April Pogacar can fly under the radar this year as he promises to keep his powder dry and “hold my horses”. Champion Vingegaard dismissed these claims out of hand believing neither the claim he was still injured nor that he would restrain his style. “I expect him to attack from stage one like he did last year,” the Dane said.