2023 Tour de France preview
🇫🇷 The history
The Tour de France began in 1903 as an effort to sell more newspapers. The French news outlet L'Auto was struggling and hoped to increase readership by organizing a 19-day, 2,428-km (1,509 mile) bike race around the country. The idea was a hit and kicked off what would become an annual event that continues to add new and more challenging routes each year.
- Today, along with the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, it’s one of three road races in the “Grand Tours.” Since its inception, the Tour de France has been held annually, only stopping during the two World Wars.
While the race started as a (mostly) French competition, it quickly became a global phenomenon, attracting competitors from all over the world. The route itself has also expanded outside of France and into neighboring European countries, but since 1975, it always ends on the
beautiful très magnifique Champs-Élysées in Paris.
- Cycling’s biggest names have won the legendary race several times like Eddy Merckx, Miguel Induráin, Chris Froome and, of course, American cyclist Lance Armstrong.
🟡 The controversies
Speaking of Armstrong, the race also has a dark history. The Tour de France is known to be especially grueling and incredibly taxing on even the highest-performing athletes' bodies, which may be why performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) have become synonymous with cycling.
Armstrong, in particular, is well known for popularizing the sport, all while brushing off accusations of doping for years.
- After winning every Tour de France between 1999 and 2005, the famed athlete was stripped of all seven titles in 2012 when a report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was released. The following year, Armstrong admitted to doping during each of his wins.
- While Armstrong’s doping scandal is the most infamous, he isn’t the only athlete to be found guilty. In 1998, over 50% of Tour de France riders violated anti-doping regulations, but last year, that number fell to just 2.3%. The race has certainly cleaned up its act.
Today, cycling is still highly competitive and entertaining to watch. But it’s also incredibly dangerous. Just last month, Swiss cyclist Gino Mäder died one day after suffering a terrible crash during a mountain descent in the Tour de Suisse.
- Renewed calls for safer routes and safety measures like netting have been made in response to Mäder’s tragic passing, but it’s evident that cycling at this level carries inherent risks.
🚲 The details
The 110th edition of the race features 176 riders from 22 teams and started with the “Grand Départ” in Bilbao, Spain. The Tour de France route changes every year, with this year’s riders taking on a 3,404-km (2,115-mile) journey, most of which explores French terrain.
- While the competition spans over 23 days, there are 21 stages and just two “rest” days for competitors. Sheesh.
- Built into the 21 days of action are four different categories for each stage: flat (don’t let the name fool you, it isn’t that flat), hilly, mountain (the toughest parts of the race), and an individual time trial.
- Add that to the dreaded cobblestones and other difficult conditions like weather, and the Tour is a doozy. Check out the stage schedule here.
Different riders can win each individual stage, but to become the overall winner or general classification (GC), a rider must earn the lowest combined time for all stages of the race. Since 1919, the overall leader wears the yellow jersey, which is usually worn by a number of different riders throughout the race before the final victor is crowned.
- While cycling is an individual sport, team leaders would be nothing without domestiques, the teammates who offer mechanical and technical support along the way, like the aforementioned Van Aert.
- Along with yellow, there are other jersey colors worn throughout the race. A green jersey is worn by the rider with the most points each day, a polka-dot jersey means the rider had the best performance in mountain stages, and a white jersey is awarded to the best-performing rider under age 26.
What’s on the line? A total of €2.3M (~$2.5M) is up for grabs this year. While not all of that goes to the winning individual rider, the largest purse is given to the GC winner, a whopping €500K (~$544K). Cha-ching.
💪 The top contenders
🇩🇰 Jonas Vingegaard, Team Jumbo-Visma: Last year’s champion and the 2021 runner-up, the Dane has a lot of pressure to perform in this year’s contest. He’s a gifted climber and has a stellar team made up of some of the best cyclists in the world, including Van Aert. The 2023 race is certainly Vingegaard’s to lose.
🇸🇮 Tadej Pogačar, UAE Team Emirates: At only 24-years-old, Pogačar is one of cycling’s best and some argue he may be its best ever. The Slovenian took home the yellow, polka-dot, and white jerseys in 2020 and 2021. Pogačar’s already notched over 10 victories this season.
- While Pogačar suffered a broken wrist after crashing during a race in April, the young cyclist was on a bike in his kitchen within a week and hasn’t let up since. Safe to say, he’s not one to rule out.
🇦🇺 Jai Hindley, Team Bora-Hansgrohe: Though it’s the Australian’s first Tour de France, the 27-year-old was victorious at last year’s Giro d’Italia where he was also runner-up in 2020. Still new to this particular race, he’s considered a dark horse for the yellow jersey.
🇦🇺 Ben O’Connor, AG2R Citroën Team: Another 27-year-old Australian, Ben O’Connor is set to compete in his third Tour de France. O’Connor hasn’t tasted victory just yet, but he was just shy of the podium in 2021. He’s also racing with a French team, so expectations are high.
🇺🇸 Neilson Powless, EF Education-EasyPost: One of six Americans participating in this year’s race, Powless finished 13th overall in last year’s Tour de France. He’s not a favorite for the yellow jersey, but he could come out on top in one of the stages.
🇨🇦 Hugo Houle, Israel-Premier Tech: One of three riders representing the red and white, the Canadian is certainly one to watch in the individual stages. The 32-year-old won Stage 16 in last year’s Tour de France, one of the toughest rides through the French Pyrenees.
📺 How to tune in
Nearly 12 million fans are expected to watch the race from the road this year (at their own risk), but if you can’t fly to Europe, you can catch all the action from the comfort of your own home.