Christian Vande Velde got a special, emotional goodbye hug from Garmin Sharp teammate Tyler Farrar as the two sat on the road recovering from the intense effort of the world team time trial championships in Tuscany.
For Vande Velde it marked the end of his 15-year professional career. He made his European debut back in 1998 with the US Postal Service team at the Criterium International and the 57km world championship TTT was his last ever race with Garmin-Sharp.
Vande Velde will no doubt look back at his long career in more detail, with more hindsight and with more emotion in the weeks and months to come. In the immediate, he preferred to enjoy the last emotions of his career.
"It's a great moment. It's fun to go out in a discipline that really made this team in the first place and with a lot of the founding members of this team. Those are the kind of memories I'll take with me when I retire," Vande Velde told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview before heading back to the Garmin-Sharp team bus to no-doubt begin retirement celebration with fellow veterans David Millar, Farrar and David Zabriskie.
"There's a lot of different emotions going on but I think it'll take some time for me to reflect on it all," he said, happy and able to appreciate the way his career played out.
"I'm so happy in hindsight with how my career evolved. I had the most success at the end of my career with Slipstream, a team that I really call my home." He explained.
"That's kind of lop sided for many people but for me that meant I never took a lot of things for granted. If I'd had a lot of the same success when I as young, I wouldn't have appreciated it in the same way."
Helping the sport
His career was inspired by that of his father John Vande Velde, who was one of the first US riders to compete on the European Six-Day circuit in the seventies. Following his own successful track career as a young rider, Vande Velde switched to road racing and went on to help Lance Armstrong win the Tour de France in 1999 and 2001.
He also succumbed to pressure to use EPO and other doping products but detailed his own doping and his knowledge of the doping within the US Postal Service team in a 26-page affidavit last September. He said in the affidavit that he stopped doping in 2006.
Ironically he had the best years of his career while riding with a clean conscience at Garmin Sharp, which he helped build with Jonathan Vaughters and David Millar. He finished fourth in the 2008 Tour de France, was seventh in 2009 and was a key part of the team that won the team time trial stage of the 2009 Tour de France. Last year he won the USA Procycling Challenge.
Vande Velde was hit by several terrible crashes and fractures during his career but always returned to his best. He came back to race this year after serving a six month ban for his confession and assistance in the USADA investigation, determined to retire on his terms and doing it while racing successfully.
History will tell the full truth of what happened at the US Postal Service team. At the moment that his career officially ended, Vande Velde again wanted to apologise for his involvement, hoping that his story and his confession can help professional cycling in the future.
"There were some incredibly tough moments, such as breaking my back and wondering if I'd be able to even walk again," he said.
"There were lots of tough moments along the way and looking back, things I wish I could go back and change and decisions I would never make again. As hard as the USADA stuff has been, it was the best decision I made because it was important to me tell the truth about my past, and to apologize for it. I will always apologize for it. I look back at the USADA experience in a very positive way and I hope that my story has helped the sport."
Sweet home Chicago
Vande Velde lived in Girona during his European racing but now he is ready to return full time to Chicago and spend far more time with his family. However he revealed to Cyclingnews that he will still work with Garmin-Sharp and his experienced voice will still be heard in the sport.
"I'm going to work with the team a little bit next year and do some TV commentary," he said.
"However I've got a lot of deep roots in the team and I really want to help the young guys have some success. I've been in Europe for the best part of 20 years and so I'm also looking forward to being with my
family more and spending some time in America. And really calling Chicago my home, not just for three months a year."