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American Riders and Teams to Watch at the 2021 Tour de France

With the 2021 Tour de France getting underway tomorrow, more eyes will be on cycling than at any other point during the season. 

 

For new fans, bike races can often be quite difficult to follow. This is especially true of Grand Tours, as the number of moving parts ramps up significantly. 

 

However, there is always something interesting to look for at the Tour de France. Whether it is returning legends or young debutants, the Tour is packed with entertaining storylines if you know where to look. 

 

For newcomers to the sport, a good starting place is to keep an eye on riders and teams from your own country. It is a solid method for developing a rooting interest without being overwhelmed by everything Le Tour has to offer.

 

With that in mind, here are a few notes on the American riders and teams that will be participating in La Grande Boucle in 2021.

 

American Riders in Le Tour de France

 

Brandon McNulty

 

Although Brandon McNulty is coming to his first Tour de France to support Tadej Pogačar, he is an extremely strong rider in his own right. The 23-year-old from Phoenix is in his second WorldTour season with UAE Team Emirates. In that time, he has posted impressive general classification results at the Vuelta a San Juan, Vuelta a Andalucía and the Giro d’Italia.

 

McNulty is a strong climber, especially on medium mountain stages. Where McNulty really shines, however, is in the time trials. So far in 2021, McNulty has four top ten finishes in WorldTour time trials. 

 

Keep an eye out for the Arizonan on Wednesday’s Stage Five. The 27 kilometer long time trial will present a great opportunity for McNulty to show off his skill. If McNulty does well enough, he may even find himself within touching distance of the Yellow Jersey early in the race.

 

Sepp Kuss

 

Like McNulty, Sepp Kuss will be riding Le Tour in support of one of the two major pre race favorites. Over the past three and a half seasons with Team Jumbo-Visma, Kuss has established himself as one of the premier climbing domestiques in professional cycling. The 26-year-old’s skill set will be vital to Primož Roglič, who is looking to win his first Tour de France after narrowly missing out to Pogačar a season ago.

 

Hailing from Durango, Colorado, Kuss has made a name for himself by winning mountainous stages of major races like the Critérium du Dauphiné and Vuelta a España. In 2020, Kuss finished 15th at the Tour despite riding in support of Roglič. Keep an eye out for Kuss to be shepherding his Slovenian leader up the major mountain top finishes like Stage 17 and Stage 18.

 

Neilson Powless

 

In 2020, Powless impressed many people with his attacking riding at Le Tour de France. Still only 24, Powless is a talented climber and a solid time trialist. Powless also excels at making the breakaway, which makes him a very versatile rider. After spending two seasons with Team Jumbo-Visma, Powless has blossomed since his move to EF Education-Nippo in 2020.

 

Besides riding well, Powless also made history last season by becoming the first tribally recognized Native North American to compete in the Tour de France. The man from Roseville, California is coming to the Tour with the primary goal of assisting EF’s GC leader, Rigoberto Urán. Powless will almost certainly also get a few opportunities of his own to sneak into the breakaway on days that suit him. 

 

In 2021, Powless will look to build upon his fourth and fifth place stage finishes from the break that he recorded a season ago. It is difficult to know in advance which stages will end up being breakaway days. On paper, stages 11 and 15 both seem to fit Neilson’s skill set.

 

Sean Bennett

 

Alongside McNulty, Bennett is one of two Americans making their Tour de France debut in 2021. The 25-year-old is in his first season with Team Qhubeka NextHash after spending two previous years in the WorldTour with EF. Of the four Americans in the 2021 Tour, Bennett brings the most unknowns to the table. He is a strong all-arounder who can place well in bunch sprints and successfully navigate hilly terrain. 

 

Given that Qhubeka NextHash are not bringing an overall contender to the Tour de France, their riders should have complete freedom to get into the breakaway as they see fit. Based on races in which Bennett has done well in the past, Stage Seven and Stage 14 could suit him nicely. If the Californian opts not to look for the breakaways, expect him to contend for top 15s in the bunch sprints. 

 

American Teams in Le Tour de France

 

Trek-Segafredo

 

 

Trek-Segafredo is the first of two WorldTour teams based in the United States. They have not brought any American riders to this year’s race, but they are sponsored primarily by American bicycle manufacturers in Trek. 

 

Trek has brought a balanced team to the Tour de France this year. The trio of Mads Pedersen, Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns can work together to produce results in the sprints. Vincenzo Nibali and Bauke Mollema are both strong enough to hunt for stage wins in the mountains. Julien Bernard, Kenny Elissonde and Toms Skuijns are all sure to show up in breakaways throughout the race.

 

Trek-Segafredo also comes to the Tour with the best team graphics thanks to their nod to the Asterix comics.

 

EF Education-Nippo

 

 

EF are known for their personalities. Their unique culture has helped to establish themselves as “America’s Team” over the past few seasons. They also know how to race, and they have brought a strong team to the Tour de France in 2021.

 

Rigoberto Urán is a legitimate threat to crack the top five on GC. Rigo is unique among overall contenders in that he rarely needs to lean on his teammates. This means that EF’s stage hunters like Ruben Guerreiro, Sergio Higuita, Michael Valgren, Magnus Cort and the aforementioned Neilson Powless should have chances to ride for individual glory. Stefan Bissegger and Jonas Rutsch are both powerful young riders. Bissegger in particular should have a great chance of doing well in the two time trials. 

 

Final Thoughts

 

The 2021 Tour de France promises to be a phenomenal race. The main event is likely to come down to a rematch between the Slovenian duo of  Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič. A season ago, Pogačar stunned Roglič in the final time trial to win the race. In 2021, Roglič and his Jumbo-Visma teammates will try to use their collective strength to prevent a repeat. 

 

The race will also be filled with plenty of secondary storylines. Here’s hoping the Americans in the event can write a few of their own.

 

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– Andrew Fasciano (@afasc573)

Featured image courtesy of @EFprocycling.

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