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Cycling's major nations go missing

The lads at Cycle Sport magazine have been churning out a heap of articles every day during this Tour de France, all available to read online. One of them in particular caught the eye yesterday. It alluded to the teams that have been winning stages in this year’s Tour.

Apart from Philippe Gilbert’s opening stage win, the rest of the victories have been divided amongst Garmin-Cervelo, HTC-High Road, BMC Racing and Team Sky. All relatively new teams, none of which hail from cycling's traditional nations of mainland Europe.

While these teams have been clocking up podium time, the older generation of teams have been clocking up time in the soporific breakaways every day, teams like FDJ, Euskaltel-Euskadi and Europcar.

But it’s not just the identity of teams where there is an ‘out with the old, in with the new’ scenario emerging, it’s the nationalities of the riders too. The stage winners so far have included a Belgian, an Australian, a Brit, a Norwegian and an American. The two wearers of the yellow jersey so far have been Gilbert and Hushovd, a Belgian and a Norwegian.

The Garmin-Cervelo team which won the team time trial contained four Americans, a Brit, a New Zealander, a Norwegian, a Canadian and a Lithuanian. The top ten on G.C., apart from the nationalities already mentioned, shows riders from Luxembourg, Germany, Denmark, Holland and Slovakia.

Not a Frenchman in sight.

Nor a Spaniard.

Nor an Italian.

The three countries which play host to the sport’s three Grand Tours have had very little to cheer about so far in this Tour de France. Although all three of these nations have combined to monopolise the combativity prize that is awarded each day, which perhaps says it all.

We’re now on Stage Eight of this year’s Tour and there has been no French, Spanish or Italian stage winner. The last time the Tour reached this stage without a winner from these three powerful cycling nations was 1988. Although that year there was an odd ‘preface’ where one rider from each team rode a 1km time trial before the first stage, which was won by the Italian Guido Bontempi.

But even the official Tour de France records don’t credit this victory to Bontempi as an official stage win. So going further back in time, the last Tour where there was no French, Spanish or Italian victory before Stage Eight is 1926. This was a Tour which was dominated by riders from Belgium, the only one of the ‘traditional’ cycling nations which can muster a bit of pride in this year’s Tour proceedings, thanks to Gilbert.

It is a problem which has become apparent since perennial stage winners like Virenque and Jalabert retired, but the French are facing the very real prospect of going the entire Tour without winning a stage for only the third time in history. Their best hopes, as they have for the last number of years, lie with Thomas Voeckler.

The veteran climber David Moncoutié may also be capable of saving face for the French. But without a top sprinter or a top G.C. rider, it’s not looking good. Last year, everything seemed to go right for the French as a number of baradeurs combined to win six stages, but 2010 was the exception rather than the norm. The next two days through the Massif Central may provide the French with their best opportunity for ensuring they don’t leave the Tour empty handed.

Back in that Tour in 1926, there were actually no French stage winners at all. This is one of only two occasions that this has happened in the Tour, the other was 1999. We all know that was the year that Lance Armstrong took over the Tour de France on behalf of the Americans.

But it’s no longer just the Americans that the French need to be worried about…it’s everybody.

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