It seemed in the summer
of 2012 that American cycling had passed its nadir. Lance Armstrong and scores of other prominent American cyclists of the last decade had admitted to doping and all news coverage of the sport revolved around illicit drugs. The future looked grim.

But in the same 2012 when all hell seemed to break loose for cycling’s old guard, there was a renaissance of new talent: Tejay van Garderen won the best young rider jersey at the Tour de France, Taylor Phinney led the Giro d’Italia for three days in May, and Joe Dombrowski won the Girobio (the “baby Giro d’Italia” for riders under 23), among many other notable palmarès. Even more notable than the wins themselves, perhaps, was the lack of doubt concerning their legitimacy.

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Each of the teams van Garderen, Phinney and Dombrowski were on (BMC, BMC, and Trek-Livestrong, respectively) have strict anti-doping programs, and it’s widely acknowledged by both pros and keen observers that the atmosphere of the pro peloton has changed with regard to performance enhancing drugs. By most accounts, over the past five or six years the use of enhancers like Erythropoietin (EPO) and blood transfusions has shifted from widespread to rare — confined to a persistent, small group of the type of cheats found within nearly any sport. This shift is due in part to improved testing methods, but a great deal of credit has to be given to teams, which have implemented incredibly strict anti-doping policies in order to avoid scandal and loss of team sponsorship.

The use of enhancers and blood transfusions has shifted from widespread to rare, confined to a persistent, small group of the type of cheats found within nearly any sport.

The clean rebirth of American Cycling is visible in all facets of the sport, in fact: American riders are rapidly rising in global rankings, American teams BMC and Garmin-Sharp are proving to be some of the strongest in the pro peloton, and American Pro Tour races are becoming some of the fastest growing and most exciting in the world.

We had a chance to witness the last of these points firsthand at the 2013 USA Pro Challenge, a seven-day, seven-stage epic that wound its way through 573 miles of Colorado. Arguably the biggest cycling race that our continent has to offer, the Pro Challenge attracted some of the sport’s best talent in riders like reigning tour champ Chris Froome, crowd favorite Jens Voight, perennial contender Andy Schleck, and homegrown powerhouses like Tejay van Garderen and Tom Danielson.

Throughout the late August week it became clear that American cycling fans weren’t just still around after Lancegate: they had multiplied and returned with a renewed passion aimed squarely at these neck-snappingly good young Americans. From laps around the resort town of Aspen in the first stage, to the climbs of Independence and Rabbit Ears Pass, to the final circuits in downtown Denver, there was a relentless energy that was impossible to ignore. We were left with absolutely no fear that cycling won’t rebound from its recent stumbles, and entirely convinced that it begins with these new pros — American and otherwise — who are taking the sport by storm. The yellow race leader’s jersey changed hands three times over the seven days: first to 23-year-old Peter Sagan, then to 21-year-old Lachlan Morton, and finally, after stage four, to 25-year-old American Tejay Van Garderen. Welcome to act two of American cycling.

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limits-promo-logoThis article is part of a new original series, LIMITS, dedicated to exploring the physical and mental borderlands of human capability. And beyond.