Only three Americans are racing in the Tour de France

With a crop of promising riders waiting in the wings, the American future looks bright.

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The Tour de France and the United States have been synonymous for decades, but the American accent won’t be very loud in 2020.

With only three confirmed starters for the 107th edition, the lowly U.S. presence reflects a marginalized role for American riders in an ever-more international peloton at the Tour de France.

Things could be looking up, however, as a crop of young, talented Americans are waiting in the wings.

Earning a spot at the start line Saturday in Nice are Tejay van Garderen and Neilson Powless (both EF Pro Cycling), and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma). Kuss and Powless are both Tour de France rookies, while van Garderen is back for his ninth career Tour start. Canada only sees one starter — Hugo Houle back for his second Tour with Astana — after Michael Woods did not earn a spot.

The U.S. has never been a huge presence in the Tour de France peloton, but since its debut in 1981 with Jonathan Boyer making history as the first American, there’s been at least one U.S. rider in every Tour since. A high-water mark of 10 came in 2011 — matching the historical record set in 1986 — but no more than five Americans have started the Tour since 2014, when nine U.S. riders crowded into the peloton.

Over the past five editions, the U.S. has fielded between three and five riders at the Tour de France, so this year’s American crew is on par with the latest tendency.

What’s behind the smaller numbers? A few things.

First off, the reduction of Tour rosters from nine to eight starters in 2018 eliminated 22 total spots from the peloton, putting the pinch on Americans to find space. With one fewer spot, teams are under pressure to bring the absolute best, and will often leave home younger riders or racers that do not align perfectly with the team’s stated Tour goals.

And though there are three U.S.-registered teams in the WorldTour league — EF Pro Racing, Trek-Segafredo, and CCC Team — that’s no guarantee that those teams will bring American riders. Trek-Segafredo and CCC Team — which puts Poland as its national identity — did not feature any U.S. riders on their respective rosters this year.

There are 30 countries represented in this year’s Tour, with France leading the way with 38. Spain and Belgium both bring 17, with Italy at 16. Rising tides in Germany and Colombia have brought 12 and 10 riders, respectively, from those cycling nations.

The U.S. made its Tour debut with Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer in 1981. The arrival of the 7-Eleven team and Greg LeMond rode a boom in the 1980s, including a record 10 starters in 1986.

American participation waned in the early 1990s as the LeMond generation retired, and a new one arrived. The U.S. Postal Service put the U.S. back on the Tour map, but a string of high-profile doping scandals marred that generation’s legacy. From 1997 to 2014, there were at least six Americans racing every July (with an exception of four in 2008). In 2011, the number hit 10, matching the all-time record in 1986 during the 7-Eleven/LeMond era.

Another major distinction from today’s generation of U.S. riders is that there is not a clear American GC candidate. LeMond was the first American to win the Tour — and is now the only official U.S. winner — and heralded in a new generation of GC riders. Though many were later caught up in doping scandals, riders such Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis, and Bobby Julich battled for the GC, bringing the chase for the yellow jersey to American fans for a decade.

That’s no longer the case. All three Americans in this year’s Tour will play support roles for their respective teams.

There is some promising talent waiting in the wings that should assure a solid U.S. presence in the peloton.

Two of this year’s Tour rookies look poised to carry U.S. colors into the next decade. Kuss could be emerging as America’s grand tour future. More a pure climber, he could evolve into a grand tour contender in the coming years if he continues on his current trajectory. Powless, too, has untapped grand tour potential.

Behind them, riders such as Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates), and Ian Garrison (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) — all WorldTour debutants in 2020 — present the American future in the Tour de France.

American riders in the Tour de France by year:

2020 — 3
2019 – 4
2018 — 5
2017 — 3
2016 — 5
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

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