With Bradley Wiggins' departure to Team Sky, Christian Vande Velde will be Garmin-Transitions' unrivalled GC leader at the Tour de France in 2010. Vande Velde and Wiggins shared the captaincy in this year's Tour de France with Wiggins - one of the revelation of the race - finishing fourth and Vande Velde eighth.
Vande Velde is currently training with his Canadian teammate Ryder Hesjedal in Hawaii before he returns to the team's base in Girona, Spain in January. It's a change in practice for the American who spent much of last winter training indoors, due to atrocious winter conditions at his Chicago-area residence.
"We're doing some good training but we're mainly avoiding the bad weather," Vande Velde told Cyclingnews. "It's negative 16 [Celsius] back home and it's going to be 30 degrees here. I can't complain. We're just having a good time. We're doing some nice climbs and it's just easy to ride your bike as opposed to laborious when you've got to go into your basement and ride your trainer."
Despite the ideal training conditions outside his Hawaii door, Vande Velde still had to deal with the news on Thursday that Wiggins had signed for Team Sky. However, after a protracted transfer, Vande Velde is relieved that he can focus on the year ahead. "Sky approached Brad a long time ago. But my personal opinion after reading the news is a bit of relief. I just wanted to know one way or another who was going to be on the team and who wasn't. I saw the pictures and he's got the Pinarello bike, so he's not here next year but in a weird way it's a relief."
Although criticism has been levelled at Sky for their transfer tactics and Dave Brailsford telling journalists at a press conference that, "If it’s a choice of having Bradley Wiggins on the team and keeping European teams happy, I’ll have Bradley Wiggins every time," Vande Velde was full of praise for Wiggins' professionalism during what was obviously a taxing time for all concerned at Garmin. "We had a great dynamic together. It was one of those things that wasn't pushed, it just happened. We had a ton of mutual respect for each other.
"It was frustrating that we didn't know the future and what was going on. At the end of the day all I cared about was professionalism and the result. And the result was that Brad was racing just like, if not better than, he'd done at the Tour de France. So that's all I care about as a teammate. He was totally professional and racing his bike for the team despite everything that must have been going on in his head."
But with the transfer complete the lines have already been drawn for next year's Tour. Alberto Contador will line up as the favourite having won four Grand Tours since July 2007; Andy Schleck is aiming to go one better than his second place in 2009; Lance Armstrong has a full season of racing in his legs after time away from the sport and younger riders like Vincenzo Nibali are steadily improving.
Jonathan Vaughters, the Gamin manager, was keen to stress that Vande Velde was every bit a challenger too. "I have every bit of faith in Christian being able to perform incredibly well in the GC in the Tour de France. It is silly for people to have forgotten what an incredible rider he is.
"He finished eighth place [in the 2009 Tour] working for somebody else, his preparation for the Tour was completely destroyed by broken bones, they were still healing from it in the Tour; for me, Christian finishing on the podium in 2010 is not only plausible, but it is likely, providing his preparation goes to plan."
Vande Velde was keen to stress the strength of Garmin's depth, with the progress of Dan Martin and Tyler Farrar and several new signings. "The big picture is that our team is really solid. We had a lot of young riders in 2008 who are maturing into really good cyclists. A guy like Martin hasn't shown 100 percent what he can do. I really believe that our team is amazingly strong at this time."
As for the fact that he and Wiggins will be rivals next year, Vande Velde joked that he's already sent out a warning message to the Sky leader: "I sent Brad a couple of cheeky messages this morning, but apart from that Brad still lives in Girona and I'm friends with his wife and family. I'll probably see him next year as much as I did this year, perhaps even more. It's just that we won't be eating dinner or having breakfast at the same place."
Sky has assembled one of the best squads in the world with Dave Brailsford aiming to win a Tour de France title in the next five years. "They've set bar incredibly high and it's not going to be easy," said Vande Velde. "They have a great bunch of guys and an amazing budget and a lot of smart people. It's a great foundation. But it's still bike racing and you've got to ride your bike no matter what kind of bus you arrive in or what kind of plane you fly in on, it's still a bike race. We'll have to wait and see."
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