By Kirsten Robbins in St. Louis, Missouri
Christian Vande Velde's victory at the Tour of Missouri puts an end to a paramount season for the 32-year old. It also marked the biggest stage race win for Garmin-Chipotle in 2008. The team withstood the efforts of runner up Team Columbia, a squad that took the lead away from them at the Tour de Georgia, to maintain yellow in the final four stages. According to Vande Velde, "the fight made this a victory that means so much more."
A decade of professional racing has seen Vande Velde's name highlighted on rosters like US Postal, Liberty Seguros and CSC. However, the all-rounder admitted that he did not expect to take the lead in the stage three time trial held in Branson. "It was a beautiful course down through the Ozarks, I liked it a lot," he said regarding the predominantly up hill jaunt. "I was surprised to win there.
"From there on it was game on, war with everyone trying to throw everything at us to take away the 18 seconds lead I had. It was a great race and I'm happy they gave us such a great fight."
The wrestle for the yellow jersey came primarily from Team Columbia with their former world champion Michael Rogers sitting in second place. "The day after the time trial we didn't really have the experience or the know-how on what we were supposed to do," he said, noting his team's first real experience defending an overall lead.
He led the way in the pink jersey in this year's Giro d'Italia followed by a fifth place overall in the Tour de France. However, before winning the Tour of Missouri, the team had yet to win a major stage race. "The team has grown ten fold through out this week," said Vande Velde, who admitted that wearing the pink jersey was where he realized he could be a leader in a Grand Tour.
"We've gained a lot of experience because some of these guys have never ridden in defense of a leader's jersey before. It's been a great growing experience for Garmin-Chipotle to say the least. We've been able to hold a lot of great professionals at bay this week with Michael Rogers and George Hincapie."
Vande Velde will end his successful season at a criterium in Washington next weekend. He will not compete in the World Championships held in Varese, Italy later this month. "It's been a really long season and I'm looking forward to fully relaxing soon," said Vande Velde, who will visit his home town in Lemont, Illinois following the race. "This was a perfect way to end my season, close to home. I've spent so many of my years away. I never imagined I'd get to end my season at a nice big stage race and then drive home."