The 99th Tour de France began this past Saturday with eight American riders competing to wear the yellow jersey in 2012. Stuck behind the shadows of seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, it’s likely none of you have ever heard of our country’s cycling ambassadors.
George Hincapie, 39, will be riding in his 17th Tour de France this year, setting a new record for the most tours in a rider’s career. Hincapie has already announced he will retire at the season’s end (per the Associated Press, via ESPN.com).
Hincapie rode alongside Armstrong in all seven of his wins, and he also helped Australia’s Cadel Evans win the tour in 2011. He has been a part of 10 Tour de France-winning teams in his career, and he will look for his 11th by joining Evans again on the BMC Racing team.
American Tejay van Garderen, 23, is also a teammate of Hincapie and Evans in 2012. On Saturday, van Garderen was ranked fourth overall after the first stage, a performance that won him the white jersey, an award given to the best rider under the age of 25.
Van Garderen is the third American (Andy Hampsten ’86, Greg Lemond ’84) to ever wear white in the Tour de France.
Although Evans is currently the team’s captain, van Garderen hopes he can upgrade to the better and brighter yellow jersey in the tours to come. “In a few years’ time hopefully he [Evans] can pass the torch,” van Garderen said via The Washington Post.
Racing as a BMC rival for team RadioShack-Nissan, 40-year-old Chris Horner will ride in support of Luxembourg native Frank Schleck. Horner was a last-minute replacement for team RadioShack-Nissan, but he is ready to improve upon his 2011 campaign after being knocked out of the race in a brutal crash last year.
Should Schleck feel unable to perform in the latter stages of the tour, Horner would take over as the team’s captain.
Serving as the co-captain of the Omega Pharma-Quickstep team, Levi Leipheimer is another notable American rider in 2012. Leipheimer struggled in 2011, but this year, he placed third in the Tour of Switzerland, proving the 38-year-old is still in contention for the yellow jersey.
Finally, team Garmin-Sharp rounds out the 2012 American class of cyclists.
Dave Zabriskie, Tyler Farrar and Christian Vande Velde will all work to secure a victory for their team’s co-captain, Tom Danielson. Danielson placed eighth in the 2011 Tour de France, and as one of the best climbers in the world, he will make his move toward the top in the later, more mountainous stages of the race.
Danielson currently is ranked 35th in the tour, but with more than 2,000 miles left to go, the American will look to fight for a top-five finish in 2012.