Any semblance of American exceptionalism on the international Grand Prix motorcycle racing circuit has evaporated over the past 20 years, and the only two U.S. riders in the lineup for this week's star-studded race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca — Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards — are clinging to their careers by a fingernail. Another, Ben Spies, has been replaced due to injury.

The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix — featuring the fastest bikes and best riders on the planet — will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday at the historic Monterey track, preceded by three practice sessions (10:25 a.m. and 2:05 p.m. Friday, and 10:25 a.m. Saturday) and two qualifying heats (2:10 and 2:35 p.m. Saturday).

Favorites to win the showcase event of the weekend will include 20-year-old rookie sensation Marc Marquez, who holds a narrow lead over fellow Spaniards Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo (both injured and questionable starters) in the current points standings, British star Cal Crutchlow, and nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi of Italy.

And despite a possible home-track advantage (Hayden and Edwards finished first and second at Mazda Raceway in '05, and Hayden won again in Monterey in '06), the two Americans must be considered long shots at best.

U.S. riders have a rich legacy in Moto Grand Prix, dating back to three consecutive world championships Kenny Roberts won for Yamaha from 1978-1980. Americans Freddie Spencer (two world championships for Honda), Eddie Lawson (for titles for Yamaha), Wayne Rainey of Monterey (three for Yamaha) and Kevin Schwantz (one for Suzuki) dominated the sport from 1983-93, but the Yanks have been mostly chasing the competition ever since. In the past 20 years, only Kenny Roberts Jr. (aboard a Suzuki in 2000) and Hayden (2006 for Honda) have been on top of the points standings at a season's end.

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