Despite a season marked by crashes and injuries, Garmin-Transitions’ Christian Vande Velde believes he has regained his ‘swagger’ ahead of his winter break and build up to the 2011 season.
The American had a difficult season. He crashed out of the Giro d’Italia, and despite making it to the start of this year’s Tour, he fell heavily on stage two, crashing on the descent of the Stockeu and fracturing several ribs, as well as suffering a cut above his left eye. He abandoned the race before the start of stage 3 and flew home. He told Cyclingnews last month that he even thought about quitting the sport.
However, he returned to Europe, and with the Vuelta in his legs and some rest and relaxation scheduled with his family in Chicago, Vande Velde is ready to return to the level of 2008, when he finished fourth in the Tour de France.
“My time off since the Vuelta has been great,” he told Cyclingnews.
“It’s the first time in a while where I’ve had an off-season and where I raced through to the end of the season. I don’t have that pressure to get back on the bike and can relax and have a good time. My family and I are enjoying it a lot.”
His relaxed demeanour is a contrast to the Vande Velde that returned home during the Tour.
“I was very apprehensive about going the Vuelta,” he continued.
“To be honest, I didn’t know if the move was good or bad. It turned out to be great and I’m happy that I went. My form was getting better and I was able to help out my teammates. We had two stages wins, a bunch of near misses and Tom [Danielson] got top ten overall. It was a big success for me and the team.”
Vande Velde found himself riding as a domestique deluxe for Garmin – a role he performed earlier in his career for Lance Armstrong and then Carlos Sastre. On the flat stages he helped Tyler Farrar in the sprints before turning his attention to shepherding Tom Danielson through the mountains.
“I just enjoyed it. Whatever the day threw at me, I raced as hard as I could. The first couple of days just finishing meant racing as hard as I could. At the end of the race, I was able to sacrifice whatever I had for the team.
“Going day to day in a big tour like that isn’t fun so I was glad that I had the opportunities to help the team in the way I did.”
By his own admission, Danielson is a rider who has let nerves get the better of him in the past, leading to illness and over-analysis. However some strong rides in the mountains, aided by Vande Velde saw him finish in the top ten of major tour for the first time since 2006.
“I was 100 per cent trying to calm him down. He rattles himself. He has all the capabilities to do whatever he wants, he just needs someone to be there for him and he’s not had that too many times in his career, so it was about being around him at the key moments, whether it was at the last climb or something technical near the end of the stage. It gave me a reason to be at the front and try my best.”
Not that the Vuelta was plain sailing for the American: “I still had some ribs that weren’t completely healed. I could have stayed at home and just trained. I was nervous in those first few days but once you get into the rhythm of a race and everyone seems to calm down I really started to relax. My posture on the bike changed and it helped me get my swagger back.”
With two feet up on the sofa for the coming weeks, Vande Velde has time to turn his attention to next year and put together his race programme. At 33 years of age and the having already considered the idea of retiring at the London Olympics, he could have just two years of competitive racing in his legs.
Unsurprisingly, he will skip next year’s Giro and instead will target the Amgen Tour of California, Tour de France and the new Quiznos Pro Challenge in Colorado as his major objectives.
“I spoke to Jonathan and Whitey and there are going to be some changes, especially with the prospect of some beautiful races here in the US with the Tour of California and Colorado. I don’t want another year to slip by where I don’t take advantage of the races on offer here.”
“The Tour will still be the main focal point but I want to be around here in the US too. I’m looking forward to the team time trial, especially with the team we’re going to have, going back to the Alpe d’Huez and then the Passage du Gois. It’ll be crazy.”
“I’m not taking anything away from the Giro but we just don’t get on. It started out really, really well but apart from that we don’t see eye to eye.”
The Tour of California may showcase a good proportion of the Garmin’s Tour line up for next year, with Dave Zabriskie likely to compete and the organisers likely to encourage the American team to bring Tyler Farrar and world champion Thor Hushovd.
“The race looks pretty epic and it’s a big difference from where they started out, and now we’re doing some real stages with some serious mountains. It’s going to be much harder than before. Along with Colorado it’s a race that I can’t miss.”