By Gregor Brown in Cuneo, Italy
American Christian Vande Velde is quietly moving closer to the coveted race leader's maillot jaune thanks to consistent performances in the Pyrénées and Alps. Yesterday, despite a crash that left tiger paw-like scares on his right forearm, Vande Velde stuck with the leaders' group on the climb to Prato Nevoso.
"I need to keep on plugging away. Just keep being good in the mountains - day by day. I will be happy if Wednesday turns out like yesterday," he told Cyclingnews on the Tour's second rest day.
The 32 year-old Garmin rider lost time to CSC's Carlos Sastre and Gerolsteiner's Bernard Kohl, but gained on previous race leader Cadel Evans. He's now fifth overall - one of six riders who are within a minute of the race lead. Following the Garmin team's one and a half hour training ride, Vande Velde explained that he was thrilled for his former team-mate Fränk Schleck when the Luxemburger took the race lead on Sunday.
"I was happy for Fränk and I was looking for him because I wanted to give him a big hug," said Vande Velde. "He sent me a photo of himself smiling while wearing the yellow jersey."
Despite Schleck moving into the lead, Vande Velde tips Sastre as the biggest threat from his former team. "He can time trial much faster than Fränk. Those are the facts. The team has cards to play. The team has never had it at this point in the race."
Vande Velde hopes the race will stick together as it did on stage nine over the Col d'Aspin to Bagnères de Bigorre. Tuesday's final climb, the Col de la Bonette-Restefond, tops out at 2802 metres, but leaves 23.5 kilometres to race - a significant distance to hold any advantage gained on the climb.
"I hope the weather is okay," said Vande Velde. "After seeing yesterday, with a bad crash and rain, I don't want it to be insane and have anyone get hurt. Cycling is dangerous enough without having a kamikaze downhill descent to the finish line.
"It is going to come down to Alpe d'Huez. It will be a long day with three massive climbs. If CSC continue to climb like they have been, they will have a great opportunity to take more time out of the peloton."
Like Schleck, Vande Velde needs time in hand over riders like Denis Menchov and Cadel Evans before the Saint Amand Montrond time trial of 53 kilometres.
"At the end of a three-week race, 52 kilometres is a long way to ride. You don't know how your body will go. Bernard [Kohl] time trials very well, he looks like a little scrapper and you don't think he can go so well, but he goes. Menchov goes well and Carlos time trials very well. And that does not even mention Cadel."