By Shane Stokes
With several days atop the teams classification and placings of second and third on stages of the race means that the Garmin-Chipotle team has already justified its wildcard slot in the Tour de France. The US squad plans to keep pushing for results, with team leaders Christian Vande Velde and David Millar plus the other riders all motivated to perform.
Vande Velde is currently fourth in the general classification and is, according to directeur sportif Johnny Weltz, capable of a strong showing there. "He looked very strong and he took a chance," said Weltz, speaking about his attack towards the end of the sixth stage to Super Besse.
"In the next days here in the mountains, things will settle more and more and he won't get so much space. But I still think it is realistic for him to do a good GC...top fifteen, perhaps."
Vande Velde went clear with climbing specialist Leonardo Piepoli on the ascent of Super Besse, showing his strong form on the ascent. The two were however hauled back by the Caisse d'Epargne-led peloton, and Vande Velde ultimately finished 23 seconds back in nineteenth place.
"I think Christian made a good move there, but Valverde and his team were pretty sure what they were doing and they didn't leave any chances to anybody," said Weltz after the stage. "The race favourite took the responsibility, I think they are pretty confident. There were not many surprises today, the people who should be there were there."
The rider himself was happy afterwards, even if the move didn't work out. It gave him confidence to aim for a high GC position.
"My legs felt great. I was away with Piepoli who is probably the best climber in the world. I found myself a little out-gunned, in a no-man's land I didn't want to be in.
"I shouldn't understate myself, though. I should really start looking after myself more for the overall."
Weltz said he is impressed by what he has seen this season, and particularly in the Tour de France. "I think he is doing extremely well. He is extremely well balanced and very confident. I think we can say he is in the form of his life."
Vande Velde has been a professional for eleven years, riding in that time with the US Postal, Liberty Seguros, CSC and now the Garmin-Chipotle team. This season he wore the maglia rosa in the Giro d'Italia and also won the time trial stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe. Weltz said that his good form is partly dude to the motivation of being part of the Garmin Chipotle squad, and also because of the structure.
"The setup in Girona is very important. You have the whole team around him, giving full support. You have everything in the neighbourhood and I think that gives him confidence." So too his strong showing thus far; unlike may of the others in the top ten, Vande Velde has little pressure of expectation.