News feature, December 26, 2004
And growing impatient for the '05 Giro
As Christian Vandevelde gets set to embark on a new year and a new team at Team CSC, the 28 year-old from Lemont, IL, is looking to put a lacklustre year at Liberty Seguros behind him and find the form that saw him as one of the most valuable members of Lance Armstrong's 'Blue Train' in 1999, the year where the Texan won the first of six Tours de France.
"To put the last two years behind me and race to my full potential," said Vandevelde on Team CSC's website, team-csc.com, when asked about his ambitions for 2005. "I am looking forward to the Giro and of course the classics before them. The team atmosphere seems great, and I'm excited to be a part of it."
Describing CSC as "the team of the decade", Vandevelde is clearly excited about his opportunity to ride under the service of Danish team manager Bjarne Riis, who has demonstrated a knack of taking riders back to their full potential after a poor season (Julich), or extracting even more out of riders whose careers have plateaued (Ivan Basso, Tyler Hamilton, Jakob Piil, Carlos Sastre, Jens Voight). The core of CSC's success appears to lie in Riis' ability to motivate 'lost' riders to believe in themselves once more, and to unite team members towards a common goal. "I think that we all have silently admired what has taken place in that team over the last few years and now I will learn there secret first hand," Vandevelde said on his website, www.christianvandevelde.com.
"Well, there aren't any secrets, I know that, just like there aren't any secrets why the Postal team always has the best team at the Tour. Motivation and support goes a long way in a sport as hard as cycling. And when you are on your own suffering day in and day out, you like to know that there is a reason that you are doing this."
Vandevelde's father, a Belgian who was an Olympian in cycling at the 1968 and '72 Games and also a handy Six Day rider, was the impetus behind his son's venture into the sport. In fact, his Dad played the role of one of the 'bad Italian guys' in the cult cycling classic Breaking Away that first screened in 1979, and although only three at the time, it wasn't long before Vandevelde jnr. was hooked by the sport, joining a Motorola training camp at 15 years old.
Signing his first pro contract with the US Postal Service in 1998, aged 21, it didn't take long for Vandevelde to acclimatise to the pro life. On year later, he enjoyed his best year ever, finishing third overall and winning the young riders' competition at the Four Days of Dunkirk. And after a fourth place overall at the Circuit de la Sarthe, the rookie earned himself one of nine sought after spots as Postal made their first serious crack at winning the Tour de France with a resurgent Lance Armstrong as leader.
As history now shows, Armstrong won the 1999 Tour by over seven and a half minutes from Swiss Alex Zülle and over ten and a half minutes from third-placed Spaniard Fernando Escartin - going onto win another five more to create a league of his own with six straight wins - but was it Vandevelde's greatest accomplishment?
"The '99 Tour was a great experience," he begins. "Lance won his first Tour and the Postal team was very 'green' as a team. We had a great time and came together that July. But individually, I'd say the '02 Vuelta where I did a lot of work for Roberto Heras. That was very rewarding to me."
For now, after a month of R&R, Vandevelde has been spending most of his time at his American home in Boulder, Colorado, working himself back into shape and working on his weaknesses. "It's not glamorous and is needed in my case," he said, but with objectives that include a Classic or stage win in a Grand Tour in mind, the now 28 year-old pro, who is about to begin his eighth year as a professional, is clearly motivated about what the future might hold for him.
"I'd like to win a Classic or a stage in a Grand Tour. Any of those would be great. I've raced in almost all the races of the calendar, and now I'm excited about the Giro for next year. It's a race that I've always admired and I am growing impatient for."