Lance Armstrong aside, most Americans know nothing more about the sport of cycling than the name of the sport's ultimate race - the Tour de France. Thanks in large part to Lance's popularity stateside, however, there are not only more Americans watching the sport's European races, there are also more races held on U.S. soil. A new such race began yesterday in California, the week-long stage race called the Tour of California, and brought with it some of the world's top names in cycling. It's exciting to see such great riders taking an American race seriously - they're not just showing up to use it as a training ride, many of them are actually looking in quite good shape.
After the brief prologue yesterday, there were five Americans in the top five spots - which bodes well for American fans of cycling now that Armstrong has retired - with Team Gerolstiener's Levi Leipheimer in the leader's jersey. (As a side note, some of you may remember my fascination with a certain Italian rider - he's actually in California this week, but only for training, though two of his American teammates were in the top five after Sunday.)
Today's stage one saw a rider on a brand new American team grab a victory, and the top five places overall remain in American hands. The cycling season has, at least in my mind, finally officially begun - and I'm quite happy about that.
Postscript: Some of you who read about cycling here last summer may also recall "Didi the Devil," who chases European races around with his crazy custom bike and his spandex devil's costume. I'm happy to report that some forward-thinking California parents are grooming their very own little devil - so at least until Didi decides to make the races over here, we'll have our own. Fantastic.