The thought that struck me the most during this year's Tour of California was how different the peloton is now, both in terms of racing as well as from the American fan perspective. As long as USPS/Discovery Channel was around, the landscape of pro American cycling was shaped by the presence, then void, of Lance Armstrong. Even CSC played second fiddle to Discovery Channel on American soil. Astana may share a strong lineage with Discovery Channel, but it is a very different squad, and the American Disco talent has been spread to CSC, Slipstream, High Road, and BMC. The consequence was a much more even Tour of California: seven different teams -- CSC, Rabobank, Quick Step, Toyota-United, Astana, Saunier-Duval, and High Road -- won stages in the Tour of California. CSC was the only team to win two.
In previous years crowds would flock to the Discovery Channel bus and leave the others relatively quiet. This year it seemed that nearly all the teams were popular attractions. As we look forward to the rest of the year, Americans will have a lot of teams to root for on the international stage: Hincapie on High Road, Leipheimer and Horner on Astana, Julich and McCartney on CSC, Zabriskie, Danielson, and Vande Velde on Slipstream, Cruz and Nydam on BMC, and so on (I'm leaving out riders as the list grows too long).
I'm most excited by Slipstream and BMC as the improvements they have made over previous years are amazing. Last year, Slipstream was going for all the secondary prizes it could muster and did quite well, but this year they landed the overall jersey for a stage, best team, and second/third place on the overall podium. BMC came out of seemingly nowhere and frequently had two riders on stage donning both the Most Aggressive and KOM jerseys; they were awarded the Most Aggressive so often that the final Most Aggressive award went to the entire team. Slipstream seems to me to be the new CSC and BMC the new Slipstream, though Slipstream is achieving its successes largely on the shoulders of it's world class TT talent. Now both Slipstream and BMC have scored invitations to the Criterium International, and Slipstream has its eyes on a Tour de France spot.
This isn't to say that I'm glad that Discovery Channel has disbanded, but I am excited by the new landscape for American cycling. It was the success of the USPS/Discovery program that helped put American cycling in this position and I'm happy to see it so strong, even if cycling as a whole is still battling larger problems.