Just Three Americans Race in 2015 Tour de France

Tejay Van Garderen of the U.S. cycles to place fourth in the individual time trial third stage of the Dauphine cycling race between Monteux and Sorgues, June 9, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Pratta

Kicking off Saturday is the 2015 Tour de France, the world's most famous bike race. This year, only three starting cyclists come from the U.S., its fewest participants since 1996. Tejay Van Garderen is cycling for the BMC Racing Team, Tyler Farrar for MTN-Qhubeka and Andrew Talansky for Cannondale-Garmin.

The race will last from July 4 to July 26, during which the cyclists will travel 3,360 kilometers (2,088 miles) over 21 stages from Utrecht—and the flatlands of the Low Countries—to the dramatic elevation of the Alps and Pyrenees, and finally, across the finish line on the Champs-Élysées.

Part of the reason for the decline of Americans in the race is that U.S. cycling is in a transitional phase. The last generation of cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, David Zabriskie and Levi Leipheimer, were culled ingloriously amid allegations of doping.

The small number of American participants will not make for a less exciting race. Farrar, racing for the South African MTN-Qhubeka team, is worth keeping an eye on. The Wenatchee, Washington, native has, fairly or unfairly, garnered a reputation of being a potential race hazard. Farrar has been implicated in 18 crashes over the 2013 and 2014 cycling seasons. He crashed four times in the 2012 Tour de France alone; one crash, during the sprint-finish, led to Farrar storming the bus of the Argos-Shimano team to confront another cyclist.

It won't only be Americans following Farrar and the possible trail of destruction left in his wake. The cyclist is hugely popular in the Belgian region of Flanders, where he lives. Farrar is fluent in Dutch and has even been made an honorary citizen of Ghent.

Van Garderen is another Washington native with his eyes on the yellow jersey. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Van Garderen, similar to Farrar, has embraced life across the Atlantic and now lives in Tuscany, Italy, during the cycling season. Despite his apparent inclinations toward the European lifestyle, Van Garderen is racing for the American BMC Racing Team.

Finally, there is the (comparatively) all-American Talansky, who was born in New York City, educated in Miami and now lives in California. Talansky is nicknamed "Pit Bull" due to his tenacious approach to the sport, although he is yet reported to have stormed any rival team buses. He is racing for Cannondale-Garmin, another American team.

The U.S. has a strange relationship to cycling, one perhaps jaded by those recent doping revelations. However, the country also boasts of Greg Lemond, a three-time Tour de France winner and a vocal antidoping advocate, who can be seen as a voice of honor in a sport that has long been plagued by scandal—even the Tour de France itself was born out of the scandalous 1899 Dreyfus Affair.

All three U.S. cyclists of the 2015 Tour de France will have the opportunity to join Lemond as heroes of American cycling over the coming weeks, that is, if they can avoid crashing.