Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Transitions) will be at the start of next week’s Vuelta a España but has revealed to Cyclingnews that he almost quit the sport after he crashed out of this year’s Tour de France.
Vande Velde crashed during stage two of Tour de France from Brussels to Spa in Belgium, the day a huge number of riders crashed on the descent of the Stockeu and the peloton waited for the Schleck brothers and finished all together in protest. Vande Velde was unable to make it back to the peloton after fracturing several ribs and suffering a nasty cut above his left eye, finishing ten minutes down.
He failed to start the next stage and returned home to his family in Spain. After a few weeks of training and a call from directeur sportif, Matt White, he was persuaded to return to Europe for the final grand Tour of the season. However he admits it has not been easy.
“I almost didn’t get on the plane to come over here in all honestly. I was feeling pretty bad again last week. But White called and told me to get on the plane and it’s been an enjoyable experience so far,” Vande Velde told Cyclingnews.
Vande Velde’s recovery involved three weeks of full rest and he didn’t even look at his bike until the day before his teammates reached the Champs Elysees in Paris. His training has been moderate and although he admits he won’t be a GC threat at the Vuelta, he would like to play a part, especially with the race starting with a team time trial in Seville.
“I’d be lying if I said the team time trial wasn’t a factor, although I don’t know how much help I can be. I need to get through the Vuelta but I’m not just doing it to ride my bike or for training. I’m there to support my teammates and when I have good enough form, go for stage wins.
“I truly gave myself a lot of time to recover. I’m still a bit tight, taking transatlantic flights with four broken ribs isn’t always the best thing but it’s much better. I’m definitely undercooked but I really want to get this race under my belt, go into the winter with a Grand Tour in my legs and have some fun racing again.
“I’m not in horrible shape but I’m nowhere near having the fitness to go in there with high aspirations. I did my first five hour ride since the Tour yesterday. That says it all.”
Two tough seasons
Vande Velde has suffered horrendous luck in the last two seasons. He crashed out of the 2009 Giro and only just made it back to form for the Tour, where he finished in the top ten. A crash at the Tour of Missouri ended his 2009 season, while his 2010 campaign got off to a nightmare start when he was forced to abandon the Giro in the first week for a second successive season.
However it was this year’s Tour setback that had the biggest effect on him.
“In a weird way I was fine for the first few days. So much shit had happened in the last year, so I was just thinking, well what else can happen? I was just going home and wasn’t worried about anything. I was almost euphoric about going home and seeing my family and not having any stress.
“Then reality set in and I realised how hard I’d worked all year and then I was down for a while. It was a big roller coaster for the next two weeks.”
After a brief stop in Spain he swiftly packed his bags and took his family from their European base in Girona back to the US, where he was moving house. Without television or internet for over a week he was able to switch off from racing and reassess his year and his future.
“I had to get out of Spain because I was constantly reminded of the Tour and people were asking me questions and giving me pity. I left as soon as I could. It was great, I didn’t know what was going on in the race, I never would think having no television or internet in this day and age would be nice but I really enjoyed being away from it all.”
Once back in the US and with just his family around him, Vande Velde was able to reflect on his setbacks and plot a path back to form. However it wasn’t easy and at a number of times he even contemplated quitting the sport.
“When you are this beat up all the time you have to use so much motivation all the time and that’s what sucks the life out of you,” he admitted.
“You go from the physio, to the osteopath, from x-ray to x-ray, it’s just hard to regain your motivation. I had all this doubt and didn’t want to ride through pain.
“Seeing my wife and kids, and seeing my daughter look at me, looking at my scars, and you have a lot of doubt and you don’t want to be hurt anymore or see their faces or disappointment. That’s what really cut through everything. I can take the pain and discomfort it’s more seeing your loved ones, not sad, but scared for you. That was pretty hard to take.”
In the end it was the support of his wife that helped him through, while the call from White gave him that extra push to return.
“I came pretty close to hanging up the wheels, very close a couple of times. It was more my wife talking me back into it and saying that I shouldn’t go out like this and have second doubts for the rest of your life. I agreed with her but I’m glad I got that push from White.”
How Vande Velde performs at the Vuelta is an unknown. The lack of racing miles should not hold him back but more likely to be a factor will be his luck. With a long break from racing and no pressure to perform, he could have the perfect atmosphere to get him through three weeks of racing. He certainly isn’t lacking motivation.
“I’m always motivated. I just want to be on the top of my game and enjoy the sport that I love. If you’re willing and able and have the opportunity then you should take it and get back on the bike.”
And as for the future, the American has already pinpointed a place and time when he’d like to say goodbye to the sport on his terms.
“I’d love to make the Olympic team in 2012 and finish there. For now, though, I want to concentrate on this team and see it succeed. It’s been a lot of work and I want to be a part of it either if it’s me or anyone else having success. I love seeing the younger guys coming up and having success. It’s great to watch.”