Though Kuss later faded, McNulty delivered a searing career-best performance with third in the stage that fractured the peloton and set up teammate Tadej Pogačar for his third stage win of the 2022 Tour de France.
The U.S. riders’ exploits came a day after an emotional Hugo Houle won Canada’s first Tour stage in decades, with compatriot and teammate Michael Woods tying a personal Tour-best third.
Across this Tour de France, U.S. and Canadian riders are attacking and delivering results unseen by North American riders in decades.
The 2022 Tour marks a coming of age for Canadian riders, while a new generation of U.S. riders is making its presence felt in remarkable ways since the Tour left Copenhagen on July 1.
“There is a new generation taking over the Tour de France and it’s exciting to be a part of that,” said Trek-Segafredo’s Quinn Simmons. “A lot of the guys here, we’ve been racing together since we were juniors. It’s exciting times ahead.”
Just consider the North American results so far through 17 stages:
- Houle’s win in stage 16 was the first by Canada since 1988, when Israel Premier Tech sport director Steve Bauer won stage 2, wore the yellow jersey for five days, and finished fourth overall.
- McNulty’s third Wednesday is the best U.S. result so far in this Tour, and his best since his Tour debut in 2021.
- Neilson Powless came within four seconds on stage 6 of becoming the first U.S. rider to wear the yellow jersey since Greg LeMond in 1991.
- Four of the seven U.S. starters — Kuss, McNulty, Matteo Jorgenson and Powless — have finished in the top-10 on stages.
- Two of the four Canadian starters — Woods and Houle — have finished third or better in stages.
- Powless is the best-placed so far on GC, starting Thursday’s 18th stage in 12th overall.
The top placings in this Tour are the best official results by North American riders since the early 1990s.
- Michael Woods on Israel-Premier Tech: ‘This is Canada’s team’
- Americans in the 2022 Tour de France: A new generation takes over
- Hugo Houle soloes to Canada’s first stage win since 1988
Many of the top Tour results, particularly from U.S. riders in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, are officially removed from the Tour results sheet.
Yellow jerseys and other top results by Lance Armstrong, Dave Zabriskie, George Hincapie and Floyd Landis have all been officially disqualified for doping admissions and violations by the UCI, anti-doping authorities, and Tour organizers.
Kuss, who won a stage in last year’s Tour in Andorra, was the last American to take a stage since Tyler Farrar did so in 2011.
Powless came close to earning the latest official U.S. yellow jersey when he climbed in second in stage 5 and 6, when he was just four seconds off the maillot jaune. The last official U.S. yellow jersey was Greg LeMond during the 1991 Tour, when he held it during the first week and later lost it to Miguel Indurain.
Bauer and Alex Stieda, who became the first Canadian and North American to wear the maillot jaune in 1986, are the only Canadians to don yellow in Tour history.
So what’s behind the North American revival?
In Canada, the backing of Israel Premier Tech is giving Canadian riders a historic boost and access to the highest levels of the WorldTour.
Five of the six WorldTour riders from Canada are on the team, including three of the four Canadians at this Tour, with Houle, Woods and Guillaume Boivin. Also racing this Tour, Antoine Duchesne races for Groupama-FDJ.
Team owner Sylvan Adams is originally from Canada, and new co-sponsor Premier Tech, which moved across from Astana in 2022, is also Canadian and has been developing Canadian riders for more than a decade.
“They’re really putting Canadian cycling on the map,” Woods said earlier this season. “Now with Premier Tech coming on board, it really does feel like this is Canada’s team.
“Now that we have five Canadian riders in the WorldTour on this team, I think we are going to set the bar high, and lead by example,” Woods said. “When you have Canadians having success at the highest level, it will inspire others to do well. This is now the peak of Canadian cycling, but it’s only going to get better. I hope it will inspire more riders to move up the ranks in Canada.”
The first stage win at the Tour de France, by a Canadian, in more than three decades – congratulations, @HugoHoule! All of us back home couldn’t be prouder of your drive and determination. #TDF2022 https://t.co/pb53JRJEF0
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) July 19, 2022
Houle’s stage win came as a personal confirmation a decade in the WorldTour, and Woods, already a stage-winner at the Vuelta a España, has been nipping at the edge of major Tour success the past few years.
Best US generation in decades is already a force
It’s a different story among a younger generation of U.S. riders coming into the ranks.
Kuss, 27, is already a proven Tour stage-winner, and is racing his third Tour with Jumbo-Visma where he is a key helper to yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard.
This year, seven U.S. riders started the Tour, the most since 2014. All of this year’s Tour starters, except 31-year-old Joe Dombrowski, are under 30. Jorgenson, Simmons, Kevin Vermaerke, McNulty and Powless are 25 or less.
“It’s exciting right now with a lot of talented American riders coming through,” Jorgenson said. “We’ve kind of grown up racing together and now we’re all hitting the WorldTour at the same time, and getting some good results. It’s pretty cool.”
All the U.S. riders are pressing at the front in this year’s Tour.
Jorgenson rode into three winning breakaways so far in this Tour, and helped tow Movistar team captain Enric Mas back to the front in the cobblestone stage early in the race. Jorgenson has hit fourth twice and once fifth so far in this Tour.
Simmons attacked into four breakaways, and rode to a Tour-best 11th in stage 10 to Megeve, and later helped set up Mads Pedersen for his breakaway victory on stage 13.
Vermaerke, 21, who crashed out in the first week with a broken clavicle, recently signed a contract extension to stay with Team DSM through 2025.
“A lot of the guys here, we raced together as juniors or U23 riders already in Europe, so it’s a natural progression to get to the Tour,” Vermaerke said earlier in the race. “I think we’re at the start of something that will be grow in the coming years.”
Many of the U.S. riders in this year’s Tour came through the USA Cycling’s development program, which gave them valuable racing experience in Europe as teenagers, as well as teams such as Hagens Berman Axeon and Rally Cycling (now Human Powered Health).
What’s different from earlier generations of U.S. riders is that there isn’t a singular U.S.-backed team that is loaded with American riders, like 7-Eleven or U.S. Postal Service.
The peloton is much more international than it was two or three decades ago, and the U.S. presence is spread across the peloton. EF Education-Easy Post and Trek-Segafredo, two U.S.-backed teams, only brought one rider each respectively from the U.S.
That means that riders must compete even harder to earn spots on teams, so the riders who are being picked up by WorldTour teams are already among the elite in the world. Subsequent success at the Tour is a natural next step in that evolution.
In what’s a testament to the more global dynamics, 11 of the North Americans starting this Tour are spread across nine different teams.
Could there be a North American Tour contender among their ranks? Many believe that riders like Kuss, Powless, or McNulty could continue to develop to perhaps emerge as GC captains.
There are other young North Americans waiting in the wings, including riders like Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sean Quinn (EF Education-EasyPost).
Fans will be hoping it won’t be decades before more Tour de France success.