Five talking points for the 2023 cycling season

As road cycling's World Tour season shifts into gear at the Tour Down Under next week, AFP Sport takes a look at some of the issues and storylines expected to feature in the year ahead.

A three-way battle is on the cards at the Tour de France, Belgium's Remco Evenepoel targets the Giro and Glasgow hosts the world championships.

The Basque Country

-- In recent seasons, the Vuelta a Espana has been lit up by stages in the hilly Basque region. The Spanish grand tour passes through again in 2023, but so does the Tour de France, which makes its Grand Depart from Bilbao. Three rolling stages through the green and photogenic Basque hills will offer chances for marginal gains in the early running. A region with a deep cycling culture offers elements that will spice up the start of the 21-day route -- landmarks, narrow, winding forest roads and potential pitfalls for pretenders.

Three-way Tour tussle

-- Former Tour de France champions Egan Bernal and Tadej Pogacar will be straining to dethrone defending champion Jonas Vingegaard. An itinerary with Alpine peaks way over the 2,000m mark and an old style colossal mountain slog late in the race, seem to favour Colombian climber Bernal of Ineos. Yet Slovenia's Pogacar of Team UAE has plenty of tricky terrain in the opening week in the Basque hills and later during the climax to eke out a winnable advantage with his attritional style. Dane Vingegaard pulled off a surprise last season as he revealed all-round depth and, as sole leader of top team Jumbo, will be a tough man to beat.

Remco on the rise

-- Belgium has long awaited an heir to Eddy Merckx and in 2022 the Quick-Step sensation Remco Evenepoel collected the one-day monument Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Vuelta a Espana and world titles. Quick-Step has decided not to unleash the young maverick, who turns 23 on January 25, on the Tour de France. Instead he is targeting the Giro d'Italia in May. This year, that race will feature three individual time-trials, a discipline that suits his astonishing stamina. The sky is the limit for Evenepeol if he can manage his emotions and rein in his flamboyant urge to attack.

Packing a punch

-- The spring season of one-day classics offers opportunities to a wide field of motivated challengers with points to prove. Top French cyclist Julian Alaphilippe, who endured an injury-marred 2022, is possibly the sport's most tactically astute rider and any return to top physical form should see his swashbuckling approach deliver wins for either himself or Quick-Step teammate Evenepoel. Last season, Pogacar gambled on going for victory in the classics and then in the Tour de France and had mixed fortunes. He looked set to win the Tour of Flanders but came fourth. Pogacar is expected back on its cobbled climbs April 2.

Glasgow world championships

-- Bringing the annual competition forward, to start on August 5, only two weeks after the Tour de France ends, suits the Scottish weather and is a nod at the deluge that engulfed the Yorkshire world championships in 2019. One of the likely favourites will be Mathieu van der Poel, who on the eve of the last worlds spent a night in an Australian jail cell after an incident in his hotel hallway before charges were dropped. The race starts from Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh before winding through the old town and then heading to Glasgow, where ten laps of the inner city should attract blockbuster crowds to witness the finale of a 277.6km slog.

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