By Hedwig Kröner in Paris
A few minutes after Thor Hushovd achieved his victory on the Champs-Elysées, coming full circle with his first win in the prologue three weeks ago, a glowing Christian Vandevelde rode back across the finish line to search for his team bus, looking very happy indeed.
"Every time is special; it always feels great," the CSC rider said about finishing the Tour de France on the 'most beautiful boulevard in the world', as the French call it. "Every Tour has its meaning to myself, and this one has just been great as there's been so much adversity from the beginning. First, with Ivan, then with Stuey's broken back, then Bobby... but then Jens and Fränk won, and Carlos almost got on the podium. And now, things that happened in the beginning seem like years ago. I can barely remember the stage in Valkenburg; or when I crashed… ."
Considering the circumstances before and in the first week of the race, Team CSC can be satisfied with this year's result in Le Tour: two stage wins and Sastre's fourth placing. Nevertheless, said Vandevelde, his teammate Jens Voigt would have wanted to be elected most combative rider - a title that was finally was awarded to Saunier Duval's David de la Fuente. On the final kilometres of the 'Grande Boucle', Voigt attacked over and over again. "I think he was trying to make the point that he should be the most combative rider... he feels robbed. I can understand it: he's done a lot of work, and he deserved it," Vandevelde explained.
The last Sunday of the 2006 Tour started out at the leisurely pace of 30 km/h. But as the final circuit race approached, the bunch gradually found its competitive spirit again, "Even though it's a parade, it's still hard racing on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysées," Vandevelde continued. "There's usually a headwind, too. But seeing the Eiffel tower, and the millions of people cheering you on make it easier; you don't feel too much."
As the overall winner Floyd Landis stepped on the final podium with the Arc de Triomphe at his back, Vandevelde added, "Floyd impressed me with the way he transformed his mind and physical abilities. When he started out on the road, he was covered in bandages every day, crashing. He pushed it very far then, and he's almost doing the same thing now, but at a different level."