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Tour de Hoody: The first, last and only American to wear the Tour de France maillot jaune is Greg LeMond

The controversial American legacy in the Tour de France and the yellow jersey.

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Neilson Powless came within a whisker of riding into the yellow jersey Wednesday and Thursday at the Tour de France in what would have been the first American yellow jersey in more than a decade.

Or would it?

American cycling packs a controversial legacy with the Tour and the yellow jersey, and that’s putting it mildly.

Five Americans have worn the prized tunic across Tour history, but four of them have seen their legacies tainted by outright bans or doping admissions that put an asterisk on their palmarés.

Four have seen their names struck from the history books.

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Greg LeMond, the first American to win the Tour, is the only rider among the quintet whose legacy remains untarnished and is the only U.S. racer whose stints in the yellow jersey remain in the official Tour-backed history books.

Lance Armstrong, David Zabriskie, George Hincapie and Floyd Landis all wore yellow, but all four no longer appear as yellow jerseys in the official Tour history.

Some of their exploits, including stage wins and appearances, remain on the official register if deemed to be before or after their admitted doping practices.

All four of their yellow jersey runs, however, have been deleted due to doping positives and doping admissions.

Armstrong wore the yellow jersey 83 days during his career that was second on the all-time list, but his Tour record of seven-straight Tour wins from 1999 to 2005 was erased in the wake of the 2012 USADA case that peeled back the depths of doping during the Armstrong era.

Despite decades of other doping scandals at the Tour, Armstrong is the only former Tour winner whose name has been retroactively removed from the Tour’s official results in race history.

The official record now stands at five Tour victories, a mark held by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Miguel Indurain.

Other former Tour winners who later admitted to doping or who were linked to doping scandals, including the likes of Bjarne Riis, Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani, see their names remaining on the official winner’s list.

Landis won the 2006 Tour, but he was disqualified in the days following the Paris ceremony when anti-doping controls revealed he tested positive for testoerone.

Because his doping ban was in real time, his name was officially struck from results sheet, with Spanish rider Óscar Pereiro being awarded the victory.

In contrast, the years coinciding with Armstrong’s seven Tours remain vacant on the official results sheet and without official winners.

Hincapie and Zabriskie also held yellow during their respective careers.

Zabriskie wore yellow after winning the opening time trial in the 2005 Tour with a team directed and managed by Riis. Hincapie donned yellow in stage 1 early in the 2006 Tour.

Both riders later confessed to doping at periods throughout their respective careers.

Like Armstrong, their results and their respective stints in yellow have been struck from the official results sheet.

Since 2006, American riders have struggled to match the exuberant success of the Armstrong era to win stages or hit the yellow jersey.

Armstrong was within a fraction of a second of snatching yellow in his comeback Tour in 2009, but lost out on it based on tie-breaker rules to Fabian Cancellara in stage 5.

Then-teammate Alberto Contador later attacked Armstrong in the Pyrénées, and the pair battled all the way to Paris, with Contador winning and Armstrong finishing third in one of the most notorious Tours in history.

Armstrong’s podium was also erased by the Tour organization as part of the USADA decision, and he retired in early 2011 under a growing cloud of controversy.

Greg LeMond remains the only official US winner and wearer of the yellow jersey

Greg LeMond in the yellow jersey
Kiefel captured Greg LeMond on the Champs-Élysées making his historic come-from-behind 1989 individual time trial ride to beat Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds. (VeloNews: Courtesy Darcy Kiefel)

Since then, Tejay van Garderen was the closest American who came within a whisker of yellow in stage 2 in 2018. Teammate Greg van Avermaet crossed the line just ahead of second-place Van Garderen first in a team time trial to wear yellow.

Van Garderen twice finished fifth in the Tour, and retired in 2021 without coming that close to yellow again.

Powless’s fourth-place in stage 5 is the best stage result so far by an American in this Tour. Tyler Farrar won a stage in the 2011 Tour, and he was the last American to win a Tour stage until Sepp Kuss bounded to victory last year in Andorra.

Powless came close to yellow. On Wednesday, only a late chase kept Wout van Aert in yellow after Powless rode into the day’s winning breakaway, and he climbed to second at 13 seconds back.

Powless started Thursday’s stage nine seconds ahead of Tadej Pogačar, who won stage 6 and climbed into yellow thanks to time bonuses. Powless started Friday’s seventh stage in second overall at four seconds overall.

Had Pogačar not won Thursday, Powless would have been in yellow since he finished on the same time as the two-time Tour champion.

So is LeMond the last — and only — American to wear yellow?

LeMond wore the yellow jersey on 22 days during his Tour history.

LeMond won the 1986, 1989 and 1990 editions of the Tour. Early in the 1991 Tour, LeMond donned the maillot jaune for five days, and he never got it back.

If doping admissions and bans are the threshold, the first, last, and only American to wear yellow is Greg LeMond.