In the world of professional cycling the transition from domestique to team leader is difficult and rare. For every rider that makes the jump, there are dozens who try and fail - or simply never try at all. Garmin-Slipstream's Christian Vande Velde emerged as a leader after years of service to others. Procycling's Jason Sumner caught up with Vande Velde at his Chicago home to find out what made the difference.
Until 2008, Christian Vande Velde lived the life of a cycling domestique. Sure, he had occasional breakout performances - a win at the 2006 Tour of Luxembourg, second overall at the 2007 Tour de Georgia. But more often than not, the 32-year-old American was content in his supporting rider role, breaking the wind and fetching bottles for the likes of Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso and Carlos Sastre.
All that changed a year ago when Vande Velde left the comforts of CSC and signed on with the then-fledgling Slipstream team. At the time the Boulder, Colorado-based squad had no title sponsor and no guarantee that it would be invited to the sport's biggest races. But everything fell into place in 2008. GPS-maker Garmin stepped into the title sponsor role, and the newly named Garmin-Chipotle team earned a coveted invite to the Tour de France.
Vande Velde took over from there, announcing himself as a rider to be reckoned with. The Chicago native finished fifth overall - or fourth if you remove the subsequently suspended Bernhard Kohl. And he was tops among GC contenders in the Tour's final time trial, finishing fourth - or third if you remove Stefan Schumacher, who also tested positive for CERA.
Those results, plus a win at the season-ending Tour of Missouri, gave Vande Velde a huge boost of confidence, and earned him top honours in the Cyclingnews most improved rider reader poll.
Read the entire interview.