By Gregor Brown in Alpe di Pampeago
Team Slipstream Chipotle is backing the Giro d'Italia's early race leader, Christian Vande Velde, as the race heads through the high mountain stages of the Dolomites Alpe di Pampeago, Passo Fedaia and Plan de Corones. The 32 year-old US rider held the race leader's maglia rosa for one day after the team won the opening team time trial in Palermo and continued to prove strong on the first day in the high-mountains.
"It is going great, we are into the last phase of the Giro, so we will see what happens today and tomorrow," said Vande Velde to Cyclingnews at the start of stage 14 in Verona's Piazza Bra. "It will be a completely different Giro after today and tomorrow, mostly after tomorrow.
He tipped Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador of Team Astana, for the overall win. "He has so much class. He is heads and shoulders above everyone. Even tomorrow is so hard. We will see more after tomorrow.
"I am going to try today, if I can get into a break away. I think I have hurt myself a bit with being so high in the GC [general classification - ed.], I should have sit up. If they knew I was not going to take the GC so seriously maybe they would let me go a little bit easier. I will try. I will try to get up the road today and see what we can do."
Vande Velde followed through with his promise and made the day's major move of 13 men, which went free at 13 kilometres into the 195-kilometre stage. Despite fighting hard, he was dislodged from his companions on the Passo Manghen. He battled back, being caught by the classification riders on the Pampeago, finishing sixth best out of the original escapees.
He explained, before the day's stage into the Dolomites, "I don't want to go too deep in the Giro, but if I am feeling good I am going to take every opportunity I can. Our biggest objectives is still the Tour de France. We've done a great so far in the Giro, and we want to keep on doing that."
The American team has done "great" in this Giro, its first Grand Tour. It met its objective when it took the opening day's time trial with six seconds over Team CSC. The day's win allowed Vande Velde to don the maglia verde for one day, until Italy's Franco Pellizotti took it over.
"It is a lot of fun," Vande Velde said. "We have had guys that have learned a lot, myself, all they way down to the youngest, CJ [Chris Sutton - ed.]. It has been a good learning experience for the whole team. The first Grand Tour for the team. It has been a lot of positives for us, and not many negatives."
The team has had some low points, namely the crash of American David Zabriskie. He was aiming for the Urbino time trial, but now he simply will want to recover from a fractured vertebrae. "That was bad, really bad," Vande Velde noted of his close friend and team-mate. "He is such a great friend, but at the same time there is a positive because he can go home to be with his newborn baby Bittersweet. ... Breaking your back, that is not funny at all. He is doing alright, he is having a good time. Dave's morale is always good, if it is down he is not showing it to me."
Canadian team-mate, Ryder Hesjedal, confirmed Vande Velde's leadership role. "We are still looking further into the race," declared Hesjedal. "I think Christian is going to give all he can, he is in the GC. He can hang on. The rest is just seeing if we can get through." Hesjedal aims for the final day of the three-week tour, the time trial in Milano. "Sometimes you have to hold back and conserve; the main idea is to be better in Milano, I am looking forward to it."