Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) has come heartbreakingly close to two stage wins with runner-up finishes in both the prologue and stage 3 time trials at the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge, but the 35-year-old American is buoyed by his general classification position and the possibility of overall victory.
Vande Velde lies in second place overall on general classification, 11 seconds down on Levi Leipheimer, with three stages remaining.
"I'm happy with the way that I am riding and happy to be back in contention to win the race," said Vande Velde. "I haven't felt like this since 2008 or the spring of 2009."
The 2008 season was a magical year for Vande Velde, highlighted by his fourth place finish in the Tour de France. Additionally, his then Garmin-Chipotle presented by H3O squad won the opening team time trial at the Giro d'Italia which put Vande Velde into the leader's maglia rosa, Vande Velde won the Tour of Missouri, finished second overall at the Circuit de la Sarthe, third overall at the Tour of California, third in the US professional time trial championships, plus won two individual time trials - stage 3 at the Circuit de la Sarthe and stage 1 of the Tour of Missouri.
In early 2009 Vande Velde took a solo victory in stage 4 at Paris-Nice and was building form for the Giro d'Italia.
Then disaster struck in stage 3 of the Giro where Vande Velde crashed and suffered three fractured vertebrae, and a cracked pelvis in addition to two broken ribs. Amazingly, not more than a month later he returned to competition at the Tour de Suisse and bounced back to finish 8th overall in the Tour de France. His season ended with another broken bone, however, as crashed in the finale of stage 1 at the Tour of Missouri and abandoned in the neutral zone of stage two with a broken hand.
"After I crashed in 2009 I really got beat up," said Vande Velde. "I tried to put that in the back of my mind and say it really didn't matter that much."
During the 2010 Giro d'Italia, Vande Velde once again was forced to abandon early in the Italian Grand Tour with a broken collarbone. As he did the year before, he recovered in time to start the Tour de France, but abandoned in the crash-marred stage 2 with two broken ribs.
Vande Velde finished the Vuelta a Espana that year and the base fitness earned in the Spanish Grand Tour provided a solid foundation for 2011. Vande Velde has finished 5th overall in the Tour of Oman this year, along with 4th overall at the Amgen Tour of California. He finished 17th overall in the Tour de France and most recently finished 6th overall at the Tour of Utah.
"Now that I am riding good again, or to my potential again, I realize how much I had suffered in the last couple of years," said Vande Velde. "It makes it all the more fun when you have been limited to how fast you can go over the last couple of years from suffering, to finally be able to put your foot on the gas pedal and feel good again."