Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Cervelo) finished fifth overall in the Tour of Oman, confirming he is ahead of schedule with his early season training and ready to target a series of short stage races in Spain before the Ardennes classics, his first big goal before the Tour de France.
Vande Velde arrived in Oman looking lean but unsure of his form after only riding two races at the Challenge. He left with six intense days of racing in his suntanned legs, knowing he has a solid platform of fitness to build on in the coming weeks.
The 34-year-old American finished fifth overall in Oman, 2:04 behind winner Robert Gesink (Rabobank). Other results confirmed just how well Vande Velde performed. He finished one place ahead of last year's winner Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) and several more ahead of stage race rivals Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard Trek).
"I'm way ahead of where I was this time last year and that takes a lot pressure off," Vande Velde told Cyclingnews with a broad smile that indicated his doubts about his future in the peloton after crashingss in last year's Tour de France are now a distant memory.
"It's been great riding here. It's been sunny and warm, and I rode what I thought I could do this week, if not even a little bit better. I'm happy."
"I don't think I could have gone much faster with the shape I have right now," he admitted talking specifically about Saturday's decisive 18.5km hilly time trial stage. "It was hard and I don't want to go that hard and that deep for a while again."
Aiming for the Ardennes
Vande Velde will soon be back in action as he follows a programme of races that will allow him to target victory and help him peak for the Ardennes classics.
"I'm going to Clasica de Almeria one day race next Sunday and then the Vuelta Murcia next week. After that I've got the Vuelta a Catalunya (March 21-27) and Tour of the Basque Country (April 4-9). I've got some more time trials coming in those races and so Oman is going to be a great base going into those."
Vande Velde won a stage in Paris-Nice in 2009 but prefers his slightly alternative race programme that is more suited to his talents and objectives in the Ardennes.
"I don't plan on doing Paris-Nice. I've got kind of other goals such as Basque Country," he said.
"Ryder Hesjedal has his eye on the Ardennes and so if I can be up there in the front, that'd be good for the team. The Ardennes used to be the highlight of my year about ten years ago. I really enjoy those races and so I'd like to give Liege a shot again."