Officially, Christian Vande Velde is using the Giro d’Italia to build his form for the Tour de France, but the American would undeniably gain confidence from a strong Italian Grand Tour performance, either in terms of stage performances or a high general classification result.
He had a complicated start to the season with injury and illness somewhat hampering him but has shown improving form of late and certainly seems to be moving in the right direction.
Garmin-Transitions team coach Adrie Van Diemen said that he is satisfied with Vande Velde’s shape heading into the Giro. “My opinion is that if you look where he was at the beginning of the year - the problems he was having with his hip and some illness - he was struggling then but now it's going okay," said Van Diemen.
“He did a decent ride in Romandie, a decent general classification; if you look to the time trial, there was only one guy with a ridiculously fast time. If you look at the other guys who were the general classification contenders, he was not too far off them in the time trial. So I am okay with the situation now.”
Vande Velde was 15th in the time trial and then 16th and 18th in the final two mountainous stages. He finished 14th overall, 2:47 behind Alejandro Valverde. Compared to his 79th in Paris-Nice, 31st in the Volta a Catalunya and 75th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it marked clear progress.
The question remains: with many of the Giro riders choosing to miss Romandie, would he have enough time to recover?
“Okay, it is always a little bit short [doing both],” explained Van Diemen. “But if you can try to avoid too much travelling, too much stress… the trick is to avoid all kinds of obligations. The time available should be used as recuperation time rather than time off the bike doing a lot of other stressful things. There is not much planned [for Christian] before the race, and that should help him recover.”
Some will ride the Giro flat out, such as Cadel Evans, despite wanting to peak again for July. Sometimes that can work, but in other cases - consider Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre last year, for example - the rider can be fatigued in the Tour.
Consequently, Van Diemen doesn’t want Vande Velde to go too deep. “If you look at things in terms of publicity, professional riders earn more than 90 percent of their publicity in the Tour de France,” he explained. “Christian is our general classification contender in the Tour de France, that is what his whole season is directed towards.
"For sure, if he has a chance to win a stage in a couple of races before then, then certainly he is going to take it. But everything is towards the main goal, the Tour de France.
“So he will race the Giro d’Italia where he can have a good classification there. But we are never going to do that race in such a way that it will diminish his chances in the Tour, because that is where you have to make it," Van Diemen continued. "As you saw with Menchov last year, when you do a real fight to the limit, it is not so easy to be also good one month later. You have to take time to recuperate.
“If you are lucky, you can get over it in a week, 10 days... but sometimes the guys are so tired, it takes two, three weeks or more before you can do the training that helps you improve, which makes you better. Of course, you could start training the day after the Giro, but that doesn’t mean you get better from that. The only aim of training is to get better, not just to be on the bike.”
Many high profile American and European riders will ride the Tour of California, but Vande Velde is going to pass up the chance to earn some publicity on US soil, prefering the three-week workout the Giro will provide - a long, tough race with plenty of mountains and challenging time trials.
Van Diemen said this preparation suits his charge. “Christian is a typical guy who needs a real big training block to go to the next level, to really gain quality and endurance. He can do that in training, but racing something like the Giro is perfect for him,” he explained.
“We did that already for a couple of years and each time it worked out really fine, except for last year where he broke a load of things… three vertebra, a couple of ribs. Last year it was really a race back to simply get to the Tour de France. He was just able to make it, and he did a great Tour, coming eighth.
"For me, that was one of the most extraordinary performances I have seen; going from a really bad injury situation to two months later finishing a top-level race. He was eighth in the general classification, even though in the latter part of the race he was riding for Bradley [Wiggins].”
Providing he steers clear of trouble this time round, he will certainly be ahead of where he was last year. He was fourth in 2008 and believed that with more confidence, a bit more daring, he could have finished on the podium. That has to be a goal this time round.
Van Diemen believes there are “five, six, seven guys who will fight for the podium”. He’s satisfied that the rider is on track thus far and, providing things go well over the course of the next three weeks, Vande Velde should be back in the fight, stronger than 2009 and therefore closer to his big career target.