Strasbourg, France Could an American succeed Lance Armstrong as Tour de France champion?
The top two front-runners are European - 1997 Tour champion Jan Ullrich of Germany and Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso - but one of the best fields of U.S. riders yet will provide plenty of competition for the podium.
Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis and longtime Armstrong teammate George Hincapie all placed in the top 15 at last year's Tour, and all three are potential contenders this year.
"It's a good crop of American riders right now - as strong or stronger than ever," Hincapie, the only rider to race with Armstrong on his seven Tour wins, said Thursday.
Armstrong's record run of seven straight Tour titles after recovering from cancer has raised the stature of the event in the minds of U.S. sports fans.
"It's definitely motivating," said Hincapie, who has emerged as a leader of Armstrong's former Discovery Channel team. "We want to get the sport as big as possible back in the U.S."
The latest edition of Velo, a monthly French cycling magazine, cited Landis and Hincapie as riders who could take home the overall leader's yellow jersey when the Tour ends in Paris on July 23. Leipheimer is seen as a podium contender.