by Roger Childs

Two the biggest European sporting events of the year started last weekend – the three week Tour de France and two weeks of Wimbledon tennis. Both have a history dating back well over a hundred years.

Le Tour started as a publicity stunt for the French sports magazine L’Auto in 1903 and over the years a huge number of sponsors have been involved. After problems involving cheating, threats, tacks on the roads and interference by spectators, strict rules were laid down in 1905. The Tour de France was cancelled during the First and Second World Wars, so 2023 is the 110th event.

Wimbledon was first played at the All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club in 1877. Roger Federer with eight victories has the most wins in the gentleman’s singles. New Zealand has had one champion – Anthony Wilding who won from 1910 to 1913. In the ladies singles Marina Navratilova won nine times. As with Le Tour the tournament was cancelled during the wars.

Le Tour de France 2023

There has been a pattern in the 21st century of starting Le Tour outside France. There have been early stages over the years in Ireland, England, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland. This year Le Grand Départ was from Bilbao in the Basque country in northern Spain.

Most of the 21 stages will be in France from Aquitaine in the south-west across the centre of the country to the Alps in the east, with the finish being on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. An estimated 12 million spectators will watch from the road sides on the 3405.6 km course. It is estimated that riders will consume about 126,000 calories along the way! 

Stage One was a 183 km loop starting and finishing in Bilbao. It was a hilly course and incredibly twins from England battled it out on the last hill, with Adam from team Emirates heading off his brother Simon to be the first wearer of the leader’s yellow jersey. Two of the favourites are not far behind – last year’s winner Dane Jonas Vingegaard and Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar, who wore the winners’ yellow jersey into Paris in 2020 and 2021. 

Wimbledon 2023

This third grand slam of the year is the only one on grass and draws a distinguished combination of spectators including royalty, politicians, entertainers and former winners, as well as folk from the lower classes. 

There is a great emphasis on formality and players must wear white and that includes everything they have on. However, discreet sponsors’ logos are allowed. And there are no men’s and women’s competitions, it’s gentlemen and ladies.

In 2023 the ladies singles favourites are Poland’s Iga Natalia Świątek, Belorusan Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan – the 2022 winner, and American Jessica Pegula. Świątek won the recent Roland Garros grand slam. 

Carlos Alcaraz and Novac Djokovic

On the men’s side Carlos Alcaraz is the top seed, with the Australian and French grand slams winner Novak Djokovic ranked number two. Daniil Medvedev, Casper Rudd from Norway and Greek Stephanos Tsitsipas are also in contention.

Late last week qualifiers played to make up the last few spaces in the draw, but the first round proper took place on England’s Sunday.

So the world’s best cyclists and tennis players will be battling it out on the roads of western Europe and the grass courts of Wimbledon respectively, during the early weeks of July. Both events are brilliantly televised and highlight packages can be watched on Sky sports channels.