A new era for the white jersey - who will replace Pogačar as the Tour's best young rider?

With the five-time winner of the white jersey now too old to dominate the classification, which of the Tour's young upstarts will be able to take his place?

For the first time since 2019, the white jersey will be won by a rider other than Tadej Pogačar. Since announcing himself so stunningly at the 2020 Tour de France by not only winning the white jersey, but the yellow jersey, the Slovenian has turned the classification into a virtual procession. The closest anyone has come to competing with him was when Jonas Vingegaard finished 5:21 behind in 2021, and the Dane is one of only four riders to have finished within 20 minutes of his time (the others being Enric Mas in 2020, and both Carlos Rodríguez and Felix Gall last year).

Pogačar’s dominance has been so comprehensive as to call into question the viability of the white jersey classification in its current form. He is the leading example of how riders of this current generation have come into their prime much earlier than in the past, meaning that classification — which was intended to be the domain of emerging talent and future stars — is now competed for among riders who are also good enough to challenge for the yellow jersey.

Read more: Tour de France favourites 2024: Who will win this year's yellow jersey?

Consequently, there have been calls to change the criteria regarding who qualifies, from reducing the maximum age from its current limit of riders who will be under 26 by the end of the calendar year, to restricting eligibility to neo-pros, or riders making their Tour debut.

For now, though, the rules remain the same, and so the jersey will be contested for by some riders who are already among the biggest and best GC riders in the peloton. Read on to see who we’ve backed as the leading candidates, and what their chances are of winning it.

Remco Evenepoel

The obvious favourite to win the jersey is Remco Evenepoel. The Soudal–Quick-Step rider is easily the biggest name among the candidates, and the only rider among them to have already won a Grand Tour. And given how much some of the opening week stages suit him (especially the stage seven time trial) it’d be a surprise not to see him in the white jersey at some point this Tour — the main impediment might be that he’s in yellow instead.

Yet victory is far from a foregone conclusion. While Evenepoel is expected to make a massive impression on his Tour debut, that won’t necessarily translate as a high GC finish. It’s telling that, as brilliant as he has been in Grand Tours already, the only time he has won the young riders’ classification in his four past appearances was during his victorious 2022 Vuelta a España ride.

Remco Evenepoel

Evenepoel will have his focus on yellow rather than white in his Tour debut (Billy Ceusters/ASO)

He’s not the kind of rider who is happy to ride cautiously to secure a lower top 10 finish, and nor is the prospect of winning a white jersey such a big deal for a rider who has already achieved so much. If he does fall out of contention for the yellow jersey, his priority may well be to revert to chasing stage wins rather than GC and the white jersey.

Carlos Rodríguez

Were it not for Pogačar, Carlos Rodríguez would have been crowned the best young rider at last year’s Tour. The Spaniard impressed massively on debut last year, finishing fifth in the general classification as well as winning a stage in the Alps, and, having only turned 23 earlier this year, still has scope for plenty of improvement.

He’s already come on more this year, with first, second and fourth at the Tour de Romandie, Itzulia Basque Country and Critérium du Dauphiné among his results in the top stage races; and, unlike many of the other white jersey candidates, has the advantage of not being expected to fulfil a domestique role, as Ineos Grenadiers' GC leader. The yellow jersey might be beyond him in such an elite field, but the white jersey is very much within his reach.

Juan Ayuso

At just 21 years old, Juan Ayuso might be one of the youngest riders among the white jersey candidates, but he also boasts what is arguably the most accomplished Grand Tour record. He’s ridden two already, and has done brilliantly in both, making the podium of the 2022 Vuelta a España on Grand Tour debut, and followed that up with fourth overall the next year behind Jumbo-Visma’s podium clean sweep.

Juan Ayuso

Ayuso may see his opportunities pushed aside to support Pogačar (Zac Williams/SWPix)

The Spaniard certainly has the credentials, but is he fit enough? He had to abandon the Critérium du Dauphiné after a nasty crash, and hasn’t raced since. And to what extent will he be able to chase personal ambitions like the white jersey while he is tasked with aiding Pogačar’s bid for yellow?

Matteo Jorgenson

One of the best riders of the 2024 season so far has been Matteo Jorgenson. He won Paris-Nice back in March, suggesting he’d make for an excellent new super-domestique in Visma-Lease a Bike’s Tour line-up; then, by finishing second overall at Critérium du Dauphiné mere seconds behind Primož Roglič, he made a strong case to deputise as the team’s leader in the event that Jonas Vingegaard did not recover from his injuries.

The big question hanging over the American is whether he can translate this form into the three-week format of Grand Tours. The white jersey has historically been a revealing indication as to which riders will be future yellow jersey contenders, so if he can compete for it in this race (even while working in service for Vingegaard), a bright future as a Grand Tour contender looms ahead of him.

Santiago Buitrago

Newest Colombian talent Santiago Buitrago has shown considerable potential in flashes over the last few years, notably making the podium at Liège-Bastogne-Liège last year and winning an uphill finish against stiff competition at this year’s Paris-Nice.

Such results have been enough for Bahrain-Victorious to designate him their GC leader for the Tour, and he has a consistent record at Grand Tours, finishing 12th, 13th and 10th in his last three. He’ll need to make another leap to win the white jersey against such a class field of young riders, but could be capable of doing so.

Lenny Martinez

The wildcard among the white jersey contenders is Lenny Martinez. Not only is he the youngest among them, having not yet turned 21, he’s also a late entry onto Groupama-FDJ’s line-up — team boss Marc Madiot is perhaps dreaming of his new French talent leaving a similar mark on the Tour as the recently-retired Thibaut Pinot did on debut 12 years ago.

Lenny Martinez

Martinez's mixed form and late call-up makes him a wildcard pick for the young rider classification (Zac Williams/SWPix)

His form was patchy at the recent Tour de Suisse, where he struggled initially before finishing fifth on the penultimate mountain top finish and sixth in the time trial. But he has such raw talent that there’s no telling where his ceiling will be at this Tour.

Others to watch out for

This Tour line-up is bursting with young talent, from the French contingent of Kévin Vauquelin (Arkéa - B&B Hotels), Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) and recently crowned national champion Paul Lapeira (Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale), to international names such as springtime star Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny) and Irish powerhouse Ben Healy (EF Education-EasyPost)

None of these riders are recognised as GC contenders, and therefore unlikely to be in the mix for the white jersey, but are young enough to develop hitherto dormant abilities — just as 24-year-old Oier Lazkano (Movistar) did at Critérium du Dauphiné this month, where he surprised to finish in the top 10 overall.

Elsewhere, Tobias Halland Johannsessen (Uno-X Mobility) and Javi Romo (Movistar) are more proven as climbers and stage racers, while Oscar Onley is the latest of Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL’s carousel of young talent.

Cover image by Billy Ceusters/ASO

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