One won a stage, another rode on the yellow jersey-winning team. Others were on the attack, and a few crashed.
Such were adventures of the North American contingent in the 2021 Tour de France.
Seven North Americans — three Canadians and four Americans — started in Brest, and six made it to Paris.
Michael Woods left early, in part to recover and prepare for the Tokyo Olympic Games, where he will line up as one of the favorites for the gold medal in the elite men’s road race.
Here’s a rundown of the highs and lows of the North American peloton:
Sean Bennett (Qhubeka-NextHash): 130th overall
The American Tour rookie helped line up the final sprint on the Champs-Élysées to round out a solid first crack at the Tour. Nicholas Dlamini, the first black South African to start the Tour de France, as well as teammates Victor Campenaerts and Michael Gogl did not make it to Paris, while teammate Simon Clarke finished the Tour with a fractured back.
Guillaume Boivin (Israel Start-Up Nation): 105th overall
Boivin was one of those behind-the-scenes workers for Israel Start-Up Nation, helping early in stages to position Woods, Dan Martin or André Greipel in the right place on key days.
Hugo Houle (Astana-Premier Tech): 66th overall; most combative prize S10
Houle was active a few key breakaways. He won the most combative prize in stage 10, and finished 12th in stage 7. He also rode to protect GC captain Alexey Lutsenko, who arrived in Paris in seventh overall.
Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) — 32nd overall; stage 15 win
Kuss admittedly was a bit slow out of the gate in his second Tour start. The Coloradan lost time early to take the GC pressure off of him, and slotted into a helper role as Jonas Vingegaard filled the void left by Primož Roglič.
Kuss found his legs in the second half of the race, and rode into the decisive breakaway on the mountain stage into Andorra, Kuss’s European residence where he knew the roads. With his girlfriend and family waiting alongside the road, Kuss attacked over the final climb to join an elite group of U.S. stage-winners at the Tour.
Kuss later helped pace Vingegaard through the Pyrénées in a Tour that saw Jumbo-Visma finish with only four riders, but win four stages and finish second overall.
Kuss opted out of the Tokyo Games and will recover before heading to the Vuelta a España, where Roglič could return to defend his title.
“The best day, other than winning the stage, was to help Jonas in the final climbs. The worst day was when Primož left because he was very strong. And the heroes for me are everyone on this team that kept fighting to the end.”
Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates) — 69th overall; 11th in final time trial
McNulty was a late addition to UAE Emirates Tour squad, and it proved a wise addition.
The American Tour rookie lived up to the challenge, and helped pace Pogačar across several key mountain stages. McNulty was part of a team that some considered young and inexperienced but stepped up to prove the critics wrong by carrying Pogačar all the way to Paris in yellow.
A crash in the first time trial saw McNulty unable to test himself against the clock in the first week, but he rode to a solid 11th in the final TT to end the Tour on a high note.
McNulty will race in the Olympics, where he will be an outsider for a medal in the time trial.
“I’m glad it’s over and now we can celebrate. It was super-special, and I’ve never had an experience like this. The Tour? The Tour is the Tour, the first week is stressful, maybe I was lucky to come out on the winning team on my first try. [Monday] I fly to Tokyo, and then a take a little break, and we’ll see how the second half of the year shapes up.”
Neilson Powless (EF Education-Nippo) — 43rd overall; 13th on stage 15
Back for his second Tour, Powless avoided the crashes that marred the opening week. After riding into several big breaks in his Tour debut last year, Powless pivoted toward helping captain Rigoberto Urán, who rode into the Pyrénées second overall until faltering in the final mountain stages.
Powless did ride into a few key breakaways, including finishing 13th in the stage into Andorra.
“It’s pretty nice to have made it to Paris and I feel pretty fortunate to not have crashed in such a crazy Tour. I think we had a really nice time supporting Rigo for quite a while. I think the overall atmosphere of the team was really nice the whole race. It was just a nice experience, Rigo’s such a relaxed leader and we had a pretty young team here so everybody was really excited to race and to always be doing something every day, so it was nice just to be a part of the race from start to finish.”
Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation): DNS stage 19; 3rd stage 8, 5th stage 14
Woods crashed early to sink his GC ambitions, and shifted toward stage-hunting mode.
The former runner turned into one of the most aggressive riders in the Tour, riding into several winning breaks and animating the race. His reward was two top-5s in stages, and new confidence he can perform at the highest level.
The Canadian was also in the hunt for the polka-dot best climber’s jersey before succumbing in the Pyrénées. Woods pulled the plug early to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, where he will be one of the medal favorites in the road race.
“Took the tough decision to not start today. After the two crashes, and with the Olympics on the horizon, the [team] and I decided the best move was to let my body recover. This has been an incredible last few weeks, and now I’ve got to recharge the batteries and focus on Tokyo.”