Americans in the 2013 Tour de France...

What? You weren't really expecting me not to do some kind of preview of this year's race, where you? But, I thought I would narrow the focus. Six American riders will be competing in the Tour de France this year, representing three teams. This is the fewest number from the States since the 2008 edition when only four riders took the start.

This year's six racers are: From BMC Racing, Brent Bookwalter and Tejay van Garderen, from Team Cannondale, Edward King, and from Garmin-Sharp, Tom Danielson, Andrew Talansky, and Christian Vande Velde.

Vande Velde is the elder statesman of the bunch now, and began his professional career in 1998. This year's race will be his eleventh Tour start, though his 2004 result was voided following his admission of doping. He has had two top ten overall finishes at the Tour de France, finishing 4th in 2008 and 7th in 2009. Once pegged as a Grand Tour contender, Vande Velde has had his best results in shorter stage races such as the Tour of Luxembourg which he won in 2006, the 2008 USA Cycling Professional Tour, Tour of Missouri, and 2012 USA Pro Cycling Challenge. He has also gathered up stage wins in both the Giro d'Italia and Paris - Nice. He is a strong time-trialist who can also climb, though at this point is his career, his greatest value is likely to be his experience and the assistance he can give his team leader. With five team time trial (TTT) stage victories during his career, including one each in the Tour and Giro, look for him to add to the tally at the Stage 4 TTT in Nice.

Vande Velde's teammate, Danielson, was also regarded as a Grand Tour hopeful as a result of early career successes. He is the second most experienced American in this years race, having ridden in each of the three-week races beginning in 2005. Results from his first two Giro and Vuelta have been voided due to his admission of doping. Since that time, though, he has managed to finish 9th at the 2010 Vuelta and 8th at the 2011 Tour. Danielson's strength has long been considered his ability to climb, and both he and Vande Velde will be expected to help team leader Ryder Hesjedal in search of overall success. 

The third, and youngest, of the Americans riding with Garmin-Sharp, Andrew Talansky, has shown much promise thus far in his short professional career. Though this will be his first entry in the Tour, he has raced the previous two editions of the Vuelta where, last year, he finished 7th overall. Both a strong climber and time-trialist, he is often held in the same high regard as America's other top racer, Tejay Van Garderen - the cream of the current generation.

Over at BMC, both Van Garderen and Brent Bookwalter, are ostensibly there to race in support of team leader Cadel Evans. Bookwalter has shown strength in time-trialing throughout his career and will racing his third Tour this year, providing invaluable domestique duties with the team. Van Garderen, meanwhile, is widely regarded as the top American racer right now. Coming off overall victory at this year's Tour of California, as well as top-ten finishes at the Tour de San Luis, Criterium International, Paris-Nice, and the Tour de Suisse, Van Garderen is a more than capable all-round rider, with clear team leader potential. Even though Evans may be the leader going into the race, don't be surprised to see Van Garderen finishing in the top-ten himself.

Bookwalter (fore) with Michael Schar @ 2013 ATOC

Ted King @ 2013 ATOC

Edward (Ted) King is the sixth of the Americans in this year's Tour. Riding for Cannondale, he will be there, mostly, as support to team leader, Peter Sagan, as he attempts to accumulate stage wins. King is a solid all-round rider, though, and if the opportunity presents itself, I think we can expect to see him in break attempts hoping to round up a stage win of his own. King, by the way, has his own website which is updated frequently. He has some good stuff on there, such as this from his final pre-Tour training ride: "I also saw a cow on my ride today. I swear he was looking at me and we were totally engaged in conversation just seconds earlier. But then I got my camera out and he immediately became camera shy. I wonder if he's going to tell his buds that he's now on the internet." How can you not appreciate someone who converses with cows? I will be checking in to read what he has to say about his experiences at Le Tour.

Looking beyond these six riders, I have to think that this year's Grande Boucle is likely to be the most wide open contest we have seen in years. Going into the start tomorrow I see any number of racers capable of winning the overall prize. Likewise, the Mountains Jersey, appears that it will be hotly contested. The list of likely protagonists for the Sprints competition looks a little more narrow, some favorites from past years sitting out this year, or otherwise not having been selected by their teams. What ever the outcome, it is going to be an exciting three weeks. Bring on Corsica and the Grand depart.

Week One Update:

Keeping in mind that none of the American racers are/were at the Tour in the capacity of team leader, there have been mixed results for the six after the first week of racing. Most notable, perhaps, is that the six have become four following the demise of both Christian Vande Velde and Edward King. 

Stage One was a 213 km run between Porto Vecchio and Basia, and won by German sprinting ace, Marcel Kittel. Christian Vande Velde was the best placed of the six Americans, crossing the line in 38th spot. Talansky finished 110th, Danielson 111th, van Garderen 139th, Bookwalter 175th, and King crossed as the Lantern Rouge, in 198th spot. All racers finished with the same time following bus-related confusion at the finish line.

Stage Two, a 156 km romp between Bastia and Ajaccio was won by RadioShack Leopard rider, Jan Bakelants after a very-late-in-the-race break. Van Garderen was the best placed American, in 27th. Following behind him were Talansky in 69th, Vande Velde in 77th, Danielson at 92nd, Bookwalter at 108th, and King at 167th.

The Third Stage was 145.5. km between Ajaccio and Calvi, and was won in a sprint finish by Aussie Simon Gerrans of Orica-Green Edge. Van Garderen had another good finish, coming in 27th for a second consecutive day. Bookwalter had his best finish yet, coming in at 41st. Vande Velde crossed the line in 46th, Talansky in 58th, Danielson 83rd, and King in 168th.

Stage Four was a team time trial of 25 km in the city of Nice, and won by Orica-Green Edge. Garmin-Sharp put in a strong performance, 17 seconds behind. As a result, the Americans riding with the Argyle Armada were able to advance their positions in the General Classification - Christian Vande Velde moved up to 17th, Talansky to 18th, and Danielson to 20th. BMC did not finish quite as well, finishing 25 second back, but the Americans were both able to improve their overall positions - van Garderen to 30th and Bookwalter to 87th. Edward King, suffering the effects from early face misfortune finished outside the time limit and was disqualified from further competition.

Stage Five took the race for 228.5 km between Cagnes sur mer and Marseille. Mark Cavendish won the sprint finish for his 24th Tour victory. A large crash late in the race took down Christian Vande Velde and he would suffer on to the finish (as well as the next day), coming in 184th. Talansky had a good finish, crossing the line in 37th, van Garderen finished in 85th, Danielson in 142nd, and Bookwalter in 159th. 

Another sprint ended Stage Six, a 176.5 km race between Aix-in-Provence and Montpellier which was won by Andre Greipel. Van Garderen was the best placed American finisher at 25th; just behind him was Talansky at 28th. Danielson came in at 46th, and Bookwalter at 143rd.

Another sprint finish for Stage 7, 205.5 km from Montpellier to Albi, and won by Peter Sagan. Van Garderen came in at 21st, Talansky in 31st, Danielson at 40th, and Bookwalter in a 45th Due to his injuries Vande Velde was unable to finish the stage.

Stage Eight was the first mountain stage of this year's Tour, at 195 km between Castres and Ax 3 Domaines. Sky's Chris Froome won both the stage and the Yellow Jersey battle with a commanding display. Talansky managed his best finish yet, reaching the summit in 16th spot. This, plus the time gaps of previous days moved him up to 12th on General Classification. Van Garderen crossed the line at 56th, Danielson in 62nd, and Bookwalter in 68th. 

The Ninth Stage was also the second in the Pyrenees, 168.5 km from Saint Girons to Bagneres de Bigorre. As noted previously, Irishman Daniel Martin won the stage. Andrew Talansky was, yet again, the best placed American at 33rd. Bookwalter came in 82nd, van Garderen at 86th, and Danielson, after being a part of an earlier Garmin-Sharp offensive intended to soften up Team Sky, came in 106th.

That is where things stand for the Americans after the first week. Andrew Talansky is the best placed overall at 22nd, but more significantly perhaps, he is in 4th place of the Best Young Rider Classification, 7:33 behind leader Nairo Quintana. Tejay van Garderen is 7th in the same young rider competition, but 32:59 back. Tom Danielson is in 11th place of the Mountains Competition with 12 points; Pierre Rolland leads with 49 points.

Week Two Update:

Stage ten, 197 km, from St Gildas des Bois to Saint Malo, returned the race to the realm of the sprinters, one on which Marcel Kittel for the second time proved the fastest. Andrew Talansky came in 1:40 down alongside team leader Ryder Hesjadal. Brent Bookwalter was best placed at 56th, while Tejay van Garderen came in 81st and Tom Danielson at 148th.

Stage eleven was a 33km time trial from Avranches to Mont Saint Michel. Talansky had a good day finishing in 12th spot, but over two minutes behind stage victor, Tony Martin. Van Garderen came in at 49th, Danielson at 110th, and Bookwalter at 141st. Talansky noted that he "felt good" on a course that did not suit his style, and believed that "it bodes well for the second t.t."

Stage twelve, 218km between Fougeres and Tours, saw Kittel win his third stage, after out-sprinting Mark Cavendish at the line. Talansky was, yet again, the highest placed American, at 23rd, while van Garderen came across at 92nd, Bookwalter in 139th, and Danielson at 154th.

Talansky continued his string of high placings on the 173 km thirteenth stage, between Tours and St Amand-Montrond, by crossing the line in 30th spot as part of a large group 1:09 down on the stage winner, a revived Mark Cavendish. Van Garderen crossed the line at 48th in the same group as Talansk, Bookwalter at 100th, and Danielson at 108th, both in the same group at nearly ten minutes back. This was a day during which crosswinds played havoc with the bunch, fracturing it before the escape of the Saxo-Tinkoff Team with roughly 30 km to go finished the job of demolition.

Stage fourteen was the biggest yet of this years Tour for Talansky, one which saw both he and van Garderen make the select break during the 191 km race between St. Pourcain sur Sioule and Lyon. Talansky would finish 3rd on the day behind Matteo Trentin, while van Garderen would manage 16th. Danielson would trail in more than seven minutes back in 55th, and Bookwalter in 88th. Talansky was hoping for more: "You don't get that many opportunities to win a stage at the Tour de France... I felt like I could have started sprinting a little earlier and given myself a chance to win."

The fifteenth stage, at 242.5 km, went from Givors to one of the most revered locales of cycling lore, Mont Ventoux. With a dominating display of determination and fitness, the stage was won by Yellow Jersey wearer, Chris Froome. Talansky crossed the line more than six and a half minutes back in 25th spot. Danielson came in at 72nd, Bookwalter at 81st, and van Garderen at 108th.

With two weeks now finished, Talansky sits in 13th spot on g.c., 12:32 behind Froome. Van Garderen is in 47th, Danielson in 65th, and Bookwalter 82nd, all respectably in the top half of the Tour standings. Additionally, Talansky has moved up in the Young Rider Classification to 3rd, 6:45 behind Nairo Quintana. In the same classification, van Garderen has moved up to 6th, though more than 54 minutes back. A lot of mountains await the race in the final week, many opportunities to gain time, many traps to lose time.