Three is a lonely number: Fewest U.S. Tour riders in two decades

With many young American pros still finding their places in the WorldTour, only three U.S. riders will start the Tour de France

Photo: BrakeThrough Media

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It won’t be hard to follow the U.S. riders in the peloton this Tour de France.

Only three Americans are expected to start Saturday in Utrecht, the smallest number since 1996.

With teams confirming their lineups ahead of the start of the 102nd Tour, the American contingent is its leanest in two decades.

Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin), and Tyler Farrar (MTN-Qhubeka) will be the sparse American representation in this year’s Tour. The last time the U.S. presence was so small was in 1996, when Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, and Frankie Andreu started for Motorola.

Last year, nine U.S. riders toed the line in Leeds, but only two — Talansky and van Garderen — return to Utrecht. Among those, Chris Horner (Airgas-Safeway), a veteran of six Tours, is racing at the Continental level this year. The others — Ted King, Ben King, Alex Howes (all Cannondale-Garmin), Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing), and Danny Pate (Sky) — were not selected by their respective teams. Peter Stetina (BMC Racing) is out with injury.

What does that say about the U.S. peloton? One major explanation is generational change. Most of the riders that rose to prominence in the 1990s and 2000s are already retired. Horner, Pate, and Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin) are riding into the final years of their respective careers.

Behind them, a new generation of U.S. riders is coming to the fore, led by Talansky and van Garderen. Despite the thin U.S. presence this year, the 2015 Tour, just like last year, sees a strong rise in GC quality, with two riders legitimately challenging for the top-five.

Others are also coming into their prime, with riders such as Howes, Stetina, Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing), and Busche already having Tour rides on their resumes. Behind them, new riders, such as Lawson Craddock and Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Ian Boswell (Sky), and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) are waiting in the wings for future Tour starts. And then there is the possible comeback of Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), who continues to hold out hope of returning to his best after his harrowing crash during the 2014 U.S. nationals more than one year ago.

A quick glance at the Tour stats yields some interesting things. Two Tours — in 2011 and 1986 — saw a record of 10 Americans starting. Americans have had a steady presence in the Tour since Jonathan Boyer became the first in 1981. Greg LeMond arrived in 1984 as part of a new wave of non-European riders entering the peloton. The arrival of 7-Eleven in 1986 represented the first American team to race the Tour. After Motorola folded at the end of the 1996 season, there was a lack of U.S. teams in the elite peloton, prompting American riders to join foreign teams as the peloton started to become more international.

The arrival of U.S. Postal Service in 1997 helped assure a strong U.S. presence going into the 2000s, when Slipstream, High Road, and eventually BMC and Trek, joined the peloton and provided inroads into the Tour for U.S.-based riders.

It’s been a few years since an American won a stage. Farrar’s stage 3 win in 2011 is the last stage victory by an American in the Tour.

LeMond won three editions (1986, 1989, 1990) and officially remains the lone American victor.

Since 2008, an American rider has finished in the top-10 every year, but there hasn’t been a podium during that period. The best U.S. finish over the past decade was Christian Vande Velde, fourth in 2008.

The United States also holds the dubious honor of having the most Tour victories disqualified due to doping violations. With Lance Armstrong’s seven consecutive victories no longer part of the official palmares, coupled with Floyd Landis in 2006, no less than eight U.S. wins have been erased from the official ledgers.

The state of the U.S. peloton isn’t in bad shape. Three WorldTour teams are registered in the United States, with BMC Racing, Cannondale-Garmin, and Trek Factory Racing. In total, 20 U.S. riders have jobs on six WorldTour-level teams.

Unfortunately for U.S. fans, this year, only three will be going to the Tour.

American riders in Tour de France by year

2015 — 3
2014 — 9
2013 — 6
2012 — 8
2011 — 10
2010 — 8
2009 — 7
2008 — 4
2007 — 6
2006 — 8
2005 — 9
2004 — 7
2003 — 6
2002 — 9
2001 — 8
2000 — 9
1999 — 8
1998 — 6
1997 — 6
1996 — 3
1995 — 2
1994 — 3
1993 — 3
1992 — 5
1991 — 5
1990 — 7
1989 — 5
1988 — 6
1987 — 7
1986 — 10
1985 — 2
1984 — 2
1983 — 1
1982 — 1
1981 — 1

An American in France

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