It feels like a long time since the dominant Lance Armstrong years, even if we now know how those victories were produced. And longer still back to the days of Greg LeMond, now the only official American winner of cycling’s biggest race. Heck, it even seems a somewhat halcyon memory of Tejay van Garderen fighting for the podium, even if that was just two short years ago. (Inspired by the pros? Take your training to the next level with Maximum Overload for Cyclists, published by Rodale.)
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Armstrong’s wins, even if stripped, were supposed to help produce a groundswell of interest in cycling, a new crop of young Americans eager to go and show that bike racing isn’t a Euro-centric sport. And for a while, it seemed, it was working.
Watch Taylor Phinney talk about what it was like stepping onto the Tour podium:
Even after Armstrong’s (first) retirement, American entrants in the Tour were regularly in the high single digits, and where once there was just a single US-registered team at the sport’s top level—7-11, then Motorola, then US Postal—there were three, even four in 2011, when Americans made up 10 of the 198 riders in the race and there were multiple US-registered teams.
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What’s more, even after the wreck of the US Postal scandal, we weren’t pack fodder. There was Van Garderen, fifth overall in 2012 and best young rider, fifth again in 2014. And Andrew Talansky, 10th in his first Tour in 2013. Talented young climbers like Joe Dombrowski and Lawson Craddock were coming up the developmental ranks, and then there was this kid, Taylor Phinney, cycling royalty and the scion of two of America’s best ever, already a two-time World Champion on the track at just 19.
All of that seems a little far away right now, with Nate Brown as top American in the Tour in 39th overall, almost an hour and a quarter behind the current leader, Chris Froome.
Sure, there will always be…