By Gregor Brown in Argelè-Gazost (Hautacam), France
When the Tour route was announced last October not many had their eyes on Christian Vande Velde as a potential threat to the yellow jersey. Yet since his Garmin-Chipotle team stormed to victory on the first stage of the Giro d'Italia and the rider himself slugged it out with the big guns on the Pyrenean climbing stage to Hautacam, he has become a feared contender in the eyes of his rivals.
"I was really riding within myself today and it's great to be third overall after such a hard stage," said Vande Velde, when informed by Cyclingnews that he was now third overall, only 38 seconds behind race leader Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and a further second down on Fränk Schleck (Team CSC-Saxo Bank).
The 32 year-old American had just finished the first true test for the classification, a 156 kilometre stage, covering the Col du Tourmalet and finishing at the top of the Hautacam. He made the decisive cut of fourteen men at the top of the first climb and stayed with Evans' eight-man group on the final 14.4-kilometre climb. He closed the day with Evans and Menchov, 2'17" behind the winning move and cementing his position in the general classification.
Riding for the overall is something Vande Velde knows all about thanks to his time at the sides of Lance Armstrong and Carlos Sastre. It was within his first professional team, US Postal, where he came to know not only Armstrong but Jonathan Vaughters, who would go on to become his Team Manager 10 years later.
And it was last winter that Vaughters added significant fire power to his Professional Continental team when he announced that he was signing not only Vande Velde, but David Millar, David Zabriskie and Magnus Backstedt - all men who know how to ride a Grand Tour.
The evidence was there when in its first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, the team took the opening time trial, allowing Vande Velde to wear the race leader's maglia rosa for one day. The team continued on through the Italian Grand Tour with Vande Velde finishing a creditably but unspectacular 52nd overall.
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