Wanted: An American In Paris

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Since its inception in 1903, the famed Tour de France bicycle chase completed over 2,000 stages in 103 race editions. Americans have won just a dozen of those starts and can only boast three Tour victories- all by a single rider.

From the outset, the world’s most prestigious bicycle time trial was French rooted and European championed. The top 3 winning nations remain France, Belgium and Spain.

Launched by the newspaper L’Auto in the early 20th century, the Tour was initially organized as a 6-day bike race with the purpose of boosting the French paper’s circulation.

The strategy worked and L’Auto continued organizing the event every year.

The race has grown to today’s 21-stage competition, defining the tricolored nation as much as its celebrated wines and cheeses. The Tour is owned and organized by privately held ASO, a sports event and media company that controls the newspaper L’Equipe, successor to L’Auto.

Early riders were primarily French but a handful of Belgian, Italian and Swiss cycling enthusiasts joined. The Brits and Canadians first rode the Tour in 1937.

U.S. nationals were latecomers to the game. Utah-born cyclist Jonathan Boyer was the first American to take on professional cycling’s jewel in the crown. He competed as an amateur in Europe in 1973, turned professional in 1977 and finally broke into the Tour in 1981.

Boyer rode for a French team and was encouraged by Tour executive Felix Levitan to wear a Stars & Stripes design shirt in hopes of drawing American sponsorship. Boyer participated in five events but never won a stage; his best was 12th in 1983.

Americans rose to prominence with the arrival of Greg LeMond, the first non-European to claim the pedaling tournament. The California native won the Tour three times in 1986, ’89 and ’90, including 5 individual stages.

LeMond remains the Tour’s only American winner.

By the late 1990’s, cancer survivor Lance Armstrong came to embody cycling at its highest level but in a tectonic reversal, collapsed to become its doping poster child.

Armstrong’s racing career coincided with the sport’s biggest drug scandals, which saw countless professional riders from all nations punished, suspended, or banned.

French anti-doping laws went on the books in 1965 but detection difficulties and competitors’ constant quest for money, prize and fame kept the abuse going for decades.

Armstrong won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times from 1999-05, only to be stripped of all his titles as a result of doping. He was officially discredited in 2012, though his two stage wins in 1993 and ‘95 still count.

Fellow American rider Floyd Landis fell from grace even before Armstrong. The mountain climbing specialist won the 2006 event but was subsequently disqualified for failing a urine test.

It was Landis who revealed in 2010 that Armstrong and other top riders on the same team utilized illegal substances.

27 years have passed since an American won the Tour de France. The last U.S. national to claim just a single Tour stage was Tyler Farrar in 2011.

No doubt, an American winner in Paris will lift the scandal-ridden pall still hanging over the public’s memories.

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