the new wave of American cycling

As a child, Quinn Simmons was not really passionate about cycling. The native of Durango, in the mountains of Colorado (USA), says it was a bit “annoying” watching his father spend so much time in front of the television watching the Tour de France. He devoted himself more to downhill skiing.

Five years later, however, it is on the roads of the Grande Boucle where the 21-year-old cyclist draws his smile – rarely masked despite the threat of the Covid-19 – for his first participation in the queen cycling event. road. “The final decision was made during the Tour de Suisse [terminé le 21 juin, avec le maillot à pois de meilleur grimpeur]. In my head I had prepared as if I were, but we are always a little nervous to the last yes “the driver of the Trek-Segafredo team is happy.

If Quinn Simmons is the youngest of these 109e edition, is also one of seven Americans present at the start of the event, in Copenhagen, the 1ster July. Unheard of since 2014. “I am convinced that this figure will continue to grow”slipped Kevin Vermaerke (DSM), forced to retire at 8 p.m.e stage between Dole (Jura) and Lausanne (Switzerland), on 9 July.

“Less support in the United States”

“There were several American waves on the Tour: in the 80’s with Greg LeMond, then in the early 2000s with Lance Armstrong. We’re in third.”says Franco – American photojournalist James Startt, author of Tour de France / Tour de Force. A visual history of the largest bicycle in the world Race (Books of Chronicles, 2000) and thirty-three Great Loops.

What is striking in this new wave is both his youth and his spread in the peloton. Aside from climbers Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), 27, and Joe Dombrowski (Astana-Qazaqstan), 31, the other five riders are 25 or younger. Above all, they all evolve in different teams, when in the past the American contingents rolled by formations that hoist the flag of the country like 7-Eleven, Motorola or US Postal.

Brent Bookwalter, who spent much of his career with one of them (BMC Racing), sees it as a sign of a change of mindset. “As a young rider, as an American, riding for a French or Spanish team involves immersing yourself in a different culture and it can seem very intimidating.”develops the native of Albuquerque (New Mexico), consultant in the Tour of the Flo TV channel.

There is another more prosaic explanation: “In the United States, there is less support for road cycling : less racing, equipment, infrastructure », sums up. The fault of the economic situation, but also of the doping business that had strong consequences on the commitment of the sponsors and the popular enthusiasm.

Armstrong’s ambiguous legacy

By the mid-2000s, the United States could boast of having won the Grande Boucle eleven times: Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, and 1990), Lance Armstrong (1999-2005), and Floyd Landis (2006). , then. , more than Italy and Spain. Controlled with a testosterone level eleven times higher than normal, Floyd Landis will be lowered. He will follow Lance Armstrong in 2012.

Ian Boswell grew up with the exploits of the “boss.” In the eyes of the former pilot of the British teams Sky and Swiss Katusha-Alpecin, his legacy remains ambiguous. “Lance is the reason we have invested so much in cycling in the United Statesunderlines the thirties. This guy from Texas who manages to dominate the most prestigious event in the world has shown us that it is possible. »

Read also (2019): Lance Armstrong: “We did what we had to do to win, it wasn’t legal, but it wouldn’t change anything”

His fall left a void and his compatriots have long maintained an image of runners “dirty”. But the biggest concern, he insists, was that much of his generation wanted to be general classification pilots, “Although they probably would have been better for more specific reasons.” Like Tejay Van Garderen, a time trial specialist, but rarely constant during a three-week race.

From now on, ambitions are more discreet and varied. “I’ll probably never be a general racer on a Grand Tour, but maybe after riding my shot for a few years on the road I could aim for one-week races.”explains, for example, Quinn Simmons.

“The figure of the champion”

The results are starting to come. On July 7, 2021, Sepp Kuss crossed the finish line alone in Andorra la Vella, giving the United States his first stage victory in the Tour de France from Tyler Farrar in Redon (Ille-et-Vilaine), the 2011.

During the first week of this 2022 edition, Neilson Powless (EF Education EasyPost) came within seconds of dressing in yellow: never had an American been so close to first place in the overall standings since Tejay Van Garderen , in 2018, just like his Belgian. teammate Greg Van Avermaet, at the end of the team time trial.

American Neilson Powless (right) during the 5th stage of the Tour de France, between Lille Métropole and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut (North), July 6, 2022.

From the memory of the fans, we see less than Flag with star, the flag of the United States, on the sides of the road only during Armstrong’s big hours. In the country, “Road cycling remains closely linked to the figure of the champion”explains James Startt. “I saw him as Tejay’s partner, accompanying him through the ups and downs of his career: Americans liked him when he was doing well and made fun of him when he was tougher.abundant Brent Bookwalter. This group, today, can share this burden. Not that any of them are being branded as “the” new face of American cycling on which all hopes lie. » Enough to give them time to find their strengths and make this new wave last.

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