By Daniel Benson in Alpe d'Huez
After his bête noir yesterday, Christian Vande Velde was back in contention on the final day of racing in the Alpine mountains. The 32 year-old American was among a select group of favourites containing Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Carlos Sastre (Team CSC - Saxo Bank), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner) and the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank (Team CSC - Saxo Bank), as the race reached the final climb of L'Alpe d'Huez.
Each rider took turns attacking the others in the yellow jersey group before Evans assumed control of the pursuit of Sastre on the final slopes of the mythical climb.
"I handled things quite well, and I tried with a dig at the end. It didn't quite work out though, but I'm happy with how things went today. Especially after yesterday," said Vande Velde. With the all the main contenders willing to play a game of cat-and-mouse as they took turns attacking, he felt that he missed a chance to put time into a contender.
"(Denis) Menchov (Rabobank) was out the back, and it was a lost opportunity for the rest of us. He got back on, but we could have dropped him and put him out of the picture before the time trial." However despite this lapse, after what was arguably his finest day in the mountains in this year's race, Vande Velde said he will be content with a scenario in which the final Tour de France podium will be decided on Saturday's stage 20 by the 53km ride against the clock.
Vande Velde wouldn't commit to a pick for the overall. "Carlos isn't a horrible time trialist. He's a very good time trialist. Everyone has this perception that if you're not in the top three then you can't time trial but he's good. It's Cadel's race to lose."
As he moved away from the surrounding press toward the seclusion of his team bus, he summed up his own state of mind and chances perfectly. "I was so down yesterday, I really was, but I wasn't going to throw everything away, not having trained so hard to be in this position."