2008 Tour de France Kicked Off Today... But does anyone care?

Ben ShetleyCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2008

Today marked the start of the 95th Tour de France... but how many Americans were aware or more importantly should care?

Cycling is not popular in the United States but is immensely popular in Europe.

Cycling has been hit hard by the era of performance enhancing drugs that has cast a huge shadow over the sport and specifically laid a stain on its pinnacle event, the Tour de France.

Only four Americans are participating in the Tour this year.

However for the first time in the history of the Tour there are two U.S. sponsored teams:  Team Columbia and Team Garmin Chipotle.

With Team Discovery dispanded and the Tour a couple years removed from Lance Armstrong, Americans have little reason to care about the Tour.

Here are a few reasons why we should care:

1)  Americans have won 10 of the last 22 Tours (not counting Floyd Landis since his win has officially been stripped).  Americans should love winning international events that for the longest time shunned Americans as unworthy.

2)  Cycling seems to be on the rise in the United States.  The inaugural Tour of Missouri last year was a huge success in the arena of North American Cyling.

3)  American George Hincapie, longtime team member of Lance Armstrong, is competing in his 13th Tour de France.  He is truely one of the good guys in the sport.

4)  With gas prices surging, cycling has seen a huge boom in popularity among Americans.  If only an alternative to transportation for now the interest and new people being exposed to cycling, popularity will surely increase.

5)  The Tour banned Team Astana from the 2008 Tour.  Last year Astana was the center of drug scandals but Astana completely cleaned house and rebuilt around former Discovery Channel around Johann Bruyneel, the long time manager behind Lance Armstrong's success.  With him came last year's Tour winner Alberto Contador and Levi Lephiemer, who finished third overall, both with Team Discovery.  (see http://www.letleviride.com for more information)

6)  Lastly the Tour de France is an extremely unique event in sports.  As mentioned before, it is the crown event in cycling.  Compare to the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals, the Masters, etc.  The Tour de France stands out from these because it is a grueling three week event!  No one day or even a week of performance can propel one to win.

Cycling might never be as popular in the United States as it is abroad but I believe that if sports fans give it a chance many will get pulled into the sport. 

It is much more than just a bike race.  Yes there is the individual championship but not many understand how much the team and strategy play a role.

There are multiple story lines that carry throughout the race and many awards besides the overall classification like the points competition, king of the mountains and best young rider. 

Winnng the Tour de France might be the toughest of any other athletic event to win in the world and Americans should truly give it a chance.

Tune into Versus daily during July to check out the Tour de France.  DirecTV Channel 603.