Today marks the start of a new chapter for Garmin Sharp's Christian Vande Velde who, along with teammates Tom Danielson and David Zabriskie, will line-up for the first time after serving six-month suspensions. The American trio is returning to racing at Volta a Catalunya after their involvement in USADA's doping case against Lance Armstrong and the US Postal and Discovery Channel teams.
Vande Velde has spoken out ahead of his first race since racing the two WorldTour events in Montréal and Québec in 2012, where he failed to finish both one-day races.
The 36-year-old enjoyed one of his greatest career results toward the end of his effective season last year when he won the overall at the US Pro Cycling Challenge and says that it would have been easy just to throw-in the towel and retire but he is determined to return to racing and attempt to lead by example.
"I didn't want to go away and hide after everything that came out. It would have been really easy for me to say, 'I'm out, I'm done, don't mess with me anymore,' he told ESPN. "I almost felt compelled to come back and show that I'm still proud of what I've done on this team and lead by example."
Vande Velde, along with his other teammates Zabriskie and Danielson have each dealt with their 'time off' in different ways but the Chicago resident Vande Velde admits that he went through some difficult moments and that being away from things like team training camps were difficult to come to terms with.
"It's been hard. I'm not going to lie. And I didn't foresee a lot of the things that would be hard. Like, for example, a training camp in November-December that a lot of times I didn't want to go to. I've been at a training camp at that point in time for the last 20 years of my life. Having that gaping hole there and not being retired, it blindsided me.
"I know I'm going to race this year, that'll come, and I wasn't freaking out about that. But it was definitely being away from the team, having that communication like I always have, that was hard, much more than I thought it would be."
While the admissions from Vande Velde and the like came as a surprise, it's something he has been dealing with and holding onto for much of his career - which begun with US Postal in 1998. Vande Velde spent six years at the US squad before moving onto Liberty Seguros in 2004. One year with the Spanish squad and he was off to Team CSC where he remained until joining the team run by Jonathan Vaughters in 2008.
"This has been a process over the last 15, 18 years for me and I've seen the good, the bad and the ugly, but I've also seen a turning [around] in the sport many years ago, long before this came out in 2012. I did bad things in the past. I was part of a bad culture in the sport. But I was also one of the first people to say, 'Enough.' We've [the Garmin team] been a big part of that and I'm very proud of that."
Vande Velde appears unfazed by the thought of receiving negative comments from any of his professional cycling colleagues, adding that any ill-comments would simply be part of the omerta and that his own belief and the stance of his Garmin Sharp team meant he would not have done it any other way.
"If I'm received negatively, that's just part of omerta, isn't it? When we signed up for this, signed up for [the public anti-doping message and policies advocated by] Garmin, we said we'd help out in any way or shape possible, and that's what we thought was the best thing to do, was to help out in this whole process," he said.
The former US Postal rider was yet to speak with his old team captain but said he would be more than happy to talk at some point, whenever that may be.
"I think he got a lot off his chest. Now, I think it's just a matter of him taking his own time. I don't know how many roadblocks he has in front of him for saying what he needs to say, or what he can and can't say for legal reasons," said Vande Velde.
"We haven't had a dialogue yet. I would love to at some point, whenever the time is right. I'm sure it will happen sometime."