10 Americans in Tour de France, matching record
REDON, France (AP)
A record-tying 10 U.S. cyclists spent the Fourth of July on the roads of the Tour de France.
American fans had even more to celebrate Monday when Tyler Farrar raced to his first individual Tour stage victory, becoming the first U.S. rider to win a stage on July 4.
''I certainly would have taken it on any day,'' said Farrar, a sprint specialist from Wenatchee, Wash., who rides for Garmin-Cervelo. ''But as an American, winning on the Fourth of July, it's the icing on the cake. ... Lucky me.''
Levi Leipheimer was the last American to win a Tour de France stage, taking an individual time trial in 2007.
Veterans such as BMC's George Hincapie and RadioShack's Chris Horner were among the U.S. riders taking stock of the bumper crop from America this year - and looking to some promising young compatriots.
This year's Tour marks the 30th anniversary since Jonathan Boyer became the first American `Giant of the Roads'', and it has been 25 years since Greg Lemond became the first American to win cycling's greatest race.
Also in 1986, a total of ten American cyclists competed on two teams. This year, just as many riders are competing - but this time there are four U.S. teams: RadioShack, BMC, Garmin-Cervelo and HTC-Highroad.
HTC-Highroad's Tejay van Garderen, at 22, wasn't even born when Lemond & Co. jumpstarted Americans' interest in the Tour, which got a huge boost by the record run of seven Tour victories by Lance Armstrong.
''He paved the way for us, and we just have to keep it up,'' Brent Bookwalter, a 27-year-old BMC rider, said about Armstrong. ''Last year was my first Tour, and I was overwhelmed by the support'' from American fans. You know this event kind of transcends cycling to the sporting world in general. It means a lot to be an American here.''
This year, there is no dominant American like Armstrong. RadioShack riders Horner and Leipheimer have ambitions for a top-10 finish - but that could change if they need to serve a teammate with the best chance for a podium finish when the race ends July 24 on Paris' Champs-Elysees.
Longtime Armstrong lieutenant Hincapie, competing in his 16th Tour, noted that he hasn't been home for July 4 in a long time - but said he feels the sport's growing recognition in America.
''Ten Americans at the Tour de France just shows you how much the sport has grown in the U.S.,'' he said. ''You know people are really starting to realize what a grueling sport this is, and starting to respect it.''
Christian Vande Velde said the main goal of his Garmin-Cervelo team Monday was a stage win by Farrar - one of the world's best sprinters - on the flat 123-mile trek from Olonne-sur-Mer to Redon in Brittany.
Garmin-Cervelo also was going to be riding up front to help protect Norway's Thor Hushovd, who took the yellow jersey after the U.S. squad won the team time trial Sunday, the Chicago native added.
''It's cool that we're going be an American team on the front,'' Vande Velde said at the starting line. ''But if Tyler could win today, that would be awesome.''
Consider it done.
Associated Press writer Greg Keller in Paris contributed to this report.