A thin harvest: Three Americans in Tour de France
Two rookies and a GC hunter is the threadbare American presence in the 2017 Tour de France.
Matching a two-decade low from two years ago, only three American riders will race in cycling’s marquee event. It’s even worse for Canada, with zero representation.
All three — Taylor Phinney, Nathan Brown, and Andrew Talansky — wear Cannondale-Drapac colors.
“I can’t explain the feeling when I found out the selection,” Brown said. “This is the call I have been waiting for my whole life.”
While it’s exciting times for Brown and Phinney, who also makes his long-awaited Tour debut, this year’s generational-low American Tour presence reflects an ever-changing face of the professional peloton.
The past three editions — with three, five, and three, respectively — also marks a slow downward trend of U.S. representation in the Tour.
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/Greg LeMond era.
Why the relative downturn? A few reasons. By 2014, many of the riders retired from the previous generation that spiked during the late 1990s and mid-2000s. While there’s been a steady flow of new U.S. pros into the WorldTour peloton, many of them are still relatively young and are gaining experience in the Giro and Vuelta before stepping up to the Tour. That’s a similar trajectory for Brown, 25, who raced two Giros and one Vuelta before getting the Tour call-up this year.
There are still three U.S. registered teams in the WorldTour — BMC Racing, Cannondale-Drapac and Trek-Segafredo — but that does not automatically guarantee an American rider will make the Tour squad. Jonathan Vaughters’ Slipstream organization has been most consistent in promoting American riders into the Tour, and brings the only Americans to the race this year. There are no American riders from BMC Racing or Trek-Segafredo in the Tour this year.
A major factor is the ever-increasing international presence in the peloton. Cycling is truly a global sport, with most teams boasting up to a dozen nationalities on their respective rosters. Teams might have a distinct flavor, such as Orica-Scott being associated with Aussie attitude, but the Australian-registered team has riders from 14 nations.
Traditional cycling nations still dominant the Tour peloton, with France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain filling out the bulk of the bunch this year, but even those are seeing fewer riders in the bunch. France is the only nation that remains with a traditional presence, with 39 French riders taking Saturday’s start.
Germany sees a spike this year to 16, in part because the race starts in Düsseldorf and the WorldTour arrival of German-backed Bora-Hansgrohe.
In total, there are 32 nationalities inside the Tour peloton in 2017, a number that underscores the growing internationalization of the sport. Other nations are under-represented this year as well. Spain has a century-low number of Tour riders, with only 13. Russia has zero.
More than anything, teams consider fitness and capability before a rider’s passport when it comes to making the Tour de France selection.
“We are an Australian team, but when it comes to selecting the Tour de France [team], we pick the riders who we think deserve to go,” said Orica-Scott manager Matt White, who brings three Australians to the Tour but left Australian star Simon Gerrans at home. “If we pick any rider, it’s because they’re ready to race.”
It’s also important to consider who’s not here, and why. Many teams put a bigger emphasis on the Giro d’Italia this year, and several U.S. riders who might have been at the Tour raced in Italy instead. Six Americans started the Giro this year.
Tejay van Garderen, America’s best Tour rider over the past 10 years, skipped this year’s Tour to focus instead on the Giro d’Italia. Although his GC ambitions faded in the Alps, the BMC Racing star did manage to claim his first career grand tour stage win, an important milestone. Van Garderen insists his GC aspirations at the Tour, where he twice finished fifth, are not over and he vows to return.
Other Americans who’ve raced the Tour before — Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac) and Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo) — both went to the Giro this year.
Brent Bookwalter looked to have a bead on what would have been his fifth Tour start, but BMC Racing brought other riders instead to support Richie Porte. Sprinter Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data), another Tour stalwart who won a stage in 2011 (the last by an American), has not raced the Tour since 2015.
Of last year’s American representation in the Tour — Lawson Craddock, Howes, van Garderen, Bookwalter and Stetina — none are back this year.
So what does the future hold? American presence in the Tour should hold steady and will likely grow. Several riders seem poised for a Tour debut in the next few years, including Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Drapac), Chad Haga (Sunweb), and Ian Boswell (Sky), and several others who have been to the Tour will likely be back.
And there’s some very promising American talent in the pipeline, including the likes of Alexey Vermeulen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Gregory Daniel (Trek-Segafredo), with U23 riders Logan Owen, Adrien Costa, and Neilson Powless waiting in the wings.
American riders in the Tour de France by year
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