As the Tour de France drew near, Jonathan Vaughters was still poring over power outputs and training results, trying to determine the nine riders that he would send to represent Cannondale-Garmin at the start line in the Dutch city of Utrecht.
Andrew Talansky was a given, his best shot for an overall podium. But by the time Vaughters had finalized the rest of the U.S.-based team, Talansky was the only American on it.
One of just three in the entire 198-rider field.
The rest of the Cannondale-Garmin team starting today comes from Ireland, Canada, Slovakia, New Zealand, Australia, Lithuania and the Netherlands. And that raises an intriguing question: In the post-Lance Armstrong era of American cycling, is the fewest riders to start the Tour in nearly two decades a fluke or cause for concern?
“This is a little bit of a blip,” acknowledged Bob Stapleton, who owned the highly successful U.S.-based HTC-Highroad and is now the chairman of USA Cycling’s board of directors.
“I think there’s kind of an ebb and flow,” he said. “We have a huge bunch of juniors and U-23s coming forward that are going to be really good. But I do think our head count is down a bit.”
The last time there were this few American riders in the Tour was 1996, when Armstrong was joined on a team by George Hincapie and Frankie Andreu. Since then, there have been years when as many as 10 riders from the U.S. were on the start line, and just last year nine began the three-week odyssey when the peloton rolled off from Leeds, England.
Only two are back: Talansky and Tejay van Garderen, another rider with overall ambitions. The third American is Wenatchee native Tyler Farrar, a former Tour de France stage winner.
In fact, one of the three U.S.-based teams, Trek Factory Racing, is without an American rider at all after Matthew Busche was left off its roster.
“It’s totally a blip,” said former pro cyclist Todd Gogulski.
“Teams are literally just this week announcing their teams, and that tells you how tough it is to make the selection.”
What is lacking in quantity is at least partially made up for in quality.
Farrar is back to contending for sprint stages with South Africa-based MTN-Qhubeka, while Talansky and van Garderen are at their best in the mountains, where they hope to trump favorites Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali for the podium.
“I’m in a really good place going into this Tour,” van Garderen said.
“I think I have a really good team. All the vibes I’m getting for this Tour are really good, I want to make the podium or go even higher. Anything is possible.”
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