The Tour de France is not just the world’s top cycling event – it is one of the most prestigious races of any kind in the world.
As the name suggests, the annual multi-stage race is mainly held in France – but occasionally includes stretches in other countries too.
The Tour has evolved to become a major sporting event and attracts leading cyclists from across the globe. Huge crowds line the route and the race’s progress is watched and followed by millions of fans too.
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The race was first organized back in 1903 by Frenchman Henri Desgrange, a newspaper editor seeking to boost his circulation. It was first conceived as a way to test cyclists’ endurance.
The Tour de France has evolved since and now consists of a complex multi-stage route that varies each year. It covers around 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles) in 21 stages over three weeks.
These varied stages include flat stages for sprinters and mountain stages for climbing specialists. There are also time trials for individual and team efforts against the clock – and occasionally a rest day for everyone to recover.
Tour stages often incorporate mountain passes, like Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, and Col du Tourmalet. These have become iconic stretches for fans.
An important part of the Tour is that the current race leader wears the coveted Yellow Jersey. There are other distinctive Tour jerseys too, like the Polka Dot Jersey (King of the Mountains) and Green Jersey (Points Classification).
At the same time, professional cycling teams compete for their own success as well as for the overall race victory. Each team typically has eight riders, and the collective efforts of the team play a crucial role in supporting the team leader and achieving success in the different stages of the race.
The race history of the last few years gives some clues for the favorites in 2023.
In 2021, Tadej Pogačar from Slovenia won the overall race. It was his second consecutive victory.
Other recent winners include Egan Bernal (2019) and Geraint Thomas (2018), both from Team INEOS Grenadiers (formerly Team Sky).
The 2022 Tour de France was the 109th. Last year’s race started in Copenhagen, Denmark, and ended on the Champs-Élysées, Paris, France.
Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard (Team Jumbo–Visma) won the general classification for the first time. Two-time defending champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) finished second and former winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) third.
The race also demonstrated that it’s hard to predict winners from the first few stages.
In 2022 Wout van Aert (Team Jumbo–Visma) controlled the first week until Pogačar seized control. In the Alps, Team Jumbo–Visma attacked Pogačar and Dane Vingegaard took the lead to secure victory.
The points classification was won by Wout van Aert and Vingegaard also won the mountains classification. The young rider classification was won by Pogačar and Ineos Grenadiers won the team classification.
Who will win in 2023?
The 2023 Tour started in Bilbao, Spain, on July 1 and ends in the Champs-Élysées, Paris, on July 23.
The first week featured lots of high-mountain climbs and this opened significant time differences between the riders.
Beforehand the race was expected to be a two-way fight between defending champion Jonas Vingegaard and two-time winner Tadej Pogačar. They had finished first and second respectively in 2022 and the positions had been reversed in 2021.
This year Vingegaard took the early lead but the two clashed on Stage 6. Vingegaard was leading the race but was unable to answer Pogačar’s attack 3km from the finish.
This meant Pogačar narrowed Vingegaard’s overall lead to 25 seconds.
But other riders were making their mark too. On the seventh stage, in another bunch sprint flat ending, Philipsen won, just ahead of another favorite, Mark Cavendish.
On Stage 8 Cavendish’s attempt to break the record for most stage wins ended when a serious crash injury forced him to abandon the Tour altogether. And further stages gave wins for Michael Woods.
At the time of writing, the Slovenian Pogačar sits 17 seconds behind the Dane Vingegaard, his main rival for the yellow jersey.
With the two main contenders so closely matched, commentators are struggling to pick which is the most likely eventual winner.
Everyone knows that Vingegaard and Pogačar are both experienced enough to leave something in the tank for the final stages.
Either could pull something out at the last moment. But in the Tour there can always be crashes, injuries and unexpected winners too.
The constant unpredictability is one of the best features of the world’s greatest cycle race – and so far 2023 looks like being as unpredictable as ever.