Christian Vande Velde may have relinquished his role as Garmin co-captain after the American had a disappointing day in the mountains on stage 15 from Pontarlier to Verbier. Vande Velde finished 2:41 behind Alberto Contador and dropped to 12th overall, 3:59 behind the Spaniard and new yellow jersey wearer.
However, with his teammate and friend, Bradley Wiggins, sitting third in the general classification, Vande Velde’s role in the team may shift from co-leader to super domestique. "I don’t think today was a step back for me but I thought I’d do better than I did. It’s the perfect situation that the team isn’t just relying on me. I can be the best teammate that Wiggins could ask for."
Vande Velde, who finished fifth last year, was distanced on the early stages of the final climb towards Verbier before briefly rallying and catching the lead group. However he had no answer to the accelerations that followed within the final five kilometres and was passed by several riders before the finish.
"I really wanted to put it all out there on the road but I went above my capabilities at the bottom when I was with David [Zabriskie] and Bradley [Wiggins]. At the same time I tried so I can’t kick myself for not trying," Vande Velde told Cyclingnews from the team bus.
On the early slopes of the final climb Garmin moved towards the front of the bunch as the day’s earlier break began to disintegrate up ahead. "We knew there were switchbacks and wanted to stay out of trouble and you saw a rider like Carlos Sastre is so laid back and it took him time to get back on. In my mind I didn’t want to waste energy. Our plan was to keep us out of trouble for the first few kilometres."
Despite conceding time to his main rivals, Vande Velde remained optimistic for the final week, where, by his own analysis, he should perform better. "This last week is going to be brutal, anyone within five minutes could still do things in a long breakaways. That’s why the Tour is such a cool event. You’ve got to keep on pushing."
Vande Velde was full of praise for stage winner and new race leader Alberto Contador, whose attack within the last six kilometres destroyed the field. "[Alberto] Contador was impressive and what he did was remarkable. I thought it would create damage but not to that extent. Contador really wanted to put his foot down and show his authority."
However the Garmin leader wasn’t so complimentary of Saxo Bank's tactics: "Saxo Bank set a brutal tempo at the bottom that pretty much set Alberto up and I knew that they were going to do that. I think they’ve realised they took a huge risk. They made it very easy for Contador."