Unlike the previous four years in which Christian Vande Velde started his season Stateside at the Tour of California, the Garmin-Transitions captain instead first turned the pedals in anger this season in Europe. Vande Velde kicked off his 2010 season on February 17th at Portugal's five-day Volta ao Algarve due to the American stage race's new, mid-May calendar position.
Despite being happy with his form, Vande Velde's season debut at the Volta ao Algarve did not go as planned as the Garmin - Transitions rider did not start the final day's time trial, hampered by a lingering ankle injury. Vande Velde, however, remained upbeat and eager to resume racing at Paris - Nice on March 7th.
"I was involved in a crash at the Volta ao Algarve with [Gert] Steegmans, smacked my ankle pretty hard, and it got very inflamed," Vande Velde told Cyclingnews from his home in Spain. "It doesn't take much to get you off the rails, but it doesn't take you much to get back on either this time of year. If I'm going to be involved in a crash I'm happy it's in February.
"I had to take some time off the bike this last week, which is definitely not ideal, and I'm just coming back as of right now. But you never know at this time of year and maybe a little bit of rest will do me some good."
Coupled with an extensive winter block of training in balmy Hawaii instead of his Chicago-area home, the onset of the 2010 season is a fresh departure from previous years for the 33-year-old American. It's a change of pace not to come out swinging in the early season for the US's biggest race, but it's something the seasoned American pro takes in stride.
"It's definitely an easier approach into the season, but I don't know if I like it or dislike it because I really liked that goal of being fit for the Tour of California," said Vande Velde. "All you think about throughout the winter time is 'California, California, California'. Nonetheless it's not always good to have pressure on being fit at the end of January while others ease their way into the season and maybe don't start racing until March."
"I do miss California, but at the same time it's nice going into the season a little bit easier. How that will effect me in Paris-Nice, I don't know. It is nice to have over a week of racing in your legs before you hit Paris-Nice."
Along with Vande Velde, Garmin - Transitions has several options for Paris-Nice, March 7-14, the first event of the International Cycling Union (UCI) Historic Calendar.
"Tom Danielson's in quite good form and of course Dave [Millar] will be good throughout the week as he always is at Paris-Nice," said Vande Velde. "We have a few cards to play. Fred [Kessiakoff] also had a really bad crash at Algarve and I don't know what kind of shape he's in, but hopefully he'll be ready to go.
"We have a good team and hopefully we'll have a little luck and turn in a result like Robbie Hunter, who won today [at the Tour of Murcia]. That was great news."
While Robbie Hunter earned the team's first European race win this year, Vande Velde notched Garmin - Slipstream's first European victory last season at Paris - Nice with a solo victory in the fourth stage, the first-ever solo win in Vande Velde's professional career.
"If I could repeat in that kind of fashion, that would be unbelievable," said Vande Velde. "That was a really cool win and one I'll never forget, that's for sure."