Although a few of them suffered nasty crashes and two were riding the race for the first time in their careers, all five Americans on the Tour de France start list made it through three weeks of racing to finish in Paris.
The American Tour haul in 2018 did not include any GC top 10s, major jerseys, or stage victories. It’s a far cry from the kind of presence American riders had in the Tours of the last two decades. Nonetheless, the veteran Americans in this year’s race each produced gutsy rides following tough crashes, and the rookies delivered solid performances in support roles.
For EF Education First-Drapac’s Lawson Craddock and Taylor Phinney, finishing alone could be seen as a victory. Craddock crashed hard in the very first stage of the race, suffering facial cuts and a broken shoulder blade. It was not initially clear whether he would continue, but he did — all the way to Paris, where he finished as the Tour’s lanterne rouge. He raised around $200,000 for charity along the way.
“It’s pure joy — it’s been an incredibly long three weeks for me,” Craddock said after stage 20, before the largely processional final stage in Paris. “I’m really proud of the work that I did to get to the finish.”
Phinney, too, rode through pain to make it through the last stage of the Tour, after a rough ride in stage 19. The 28-year-old “took a tree to the face” after hitting a bump in the road and losing control of his bike. The crash left him with a broken nose, but that didn’t keep him from crossing the finish line in Paris.
BMC’s Tejay van Garderen also had his fair share of misfortune, having multiple run-ins with the ground in the Tour’s ninth stage to Roubaix. Shortly after team leader Richie Porte crashed out of the race on the asphalt, van Garderen hit the deck once the race had reached the pavé. During a spirited attempt to chase back to the GC group, he crashed yet again. Although he lost time and any hope of slotting into the GC void left by Porte, he came away without serious injury.
He spent multiple days in the ensuing mountain stages up the road in breakaways.
“This Tour de France had its up and downs. Winning the team time trial was certainly the highlight and it put Greg [Van Avermaet] in yellow,” van Garderen said. “We had some aggressive showings but it would have been nice to get another stage win and obviously losing Richie was a big blow to the team. But, I think we can look back on the last three weeks and be happy with what we did.”
Katusha-Alpecin’s Ian Boswell and Sunweb’s Chad Haga, meanwhile, both came to the Tour de France as debutants, both in support roles for GC hopefuls. Across the three weeks, they put in turns for Ilnur Zakarin and Tom Dumoulin, respectively, while also learning the ins and outs of life during the sport’s main event.
Both riders pointed to the scale and popularity of the race as an eye-opener. “Everything is bigger. There’s more media everywhere, there’s much less time to relax,” Haga said.
“There’s times where I was a bit overwhelmed — you get to the hotel late, you’ve committed to different media obligations — but at the same time, it’s part of sport, sharing it with people and friends,” he said. “If anything it keeps me busy and occupied.”
Haga said the stressful racing will be a lasting memory. This Tour saw a few of his compatriots crash hard, and numerous overall contenders — like Porte, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), and Rigoberto Urán (EF-Drapac) — crash out. Then again, Haga and his Sunweb squad did a commendable job of shepherding team leader Dumoulin through the race, keeping the Dutchman into contention in the final week, where he nabbed a time trial stage win and a spot on the final overall podium.
Boswell was encouraged by his form across the three weeks of racing, which saw him sticking with the GC riders deep into a few of the high-mountain stages.
“Stage 19, I have never really felt that great into a grand tour. It’s been a hard race but I feel like every grand tour I’ve been in I get more experience,” he said. “I think I managed my efforts well over the three weeks.”
With the 21 stages down and none to go, the American representatives in France can finally enjoy at least a little time off the bike. Following the Tour’s Paris finale, the riders will have their first consecutive days away from racing since the opening week of July, which will come as a much-need break for everyone — although perhaps not as long of a break as they deserve. After all, the Tour of Utah is just around the corner for van Garderen, while others will take on this weekend’s Clásica San Sebastián.
As ever, the racing rolls on.
Andrew Hood and Fred Dreier contributed to this report from Paris.