Christian Vande Velde joins the long list of Tour de France contenders riding this year's Liège-Bastogne-Liège and will play a key role for the Garmin-Transitions team, supporting Canada's Ryder Hesjedal, who has a real shot at victory.
Vande Velde will travel to Switzerland after the race for the Tour de Romandie and then spend only two days at home before heading to the Giro d'Italia. But he wanted to be in the Ardennes to help Hesjedal after the lanky Canadian finished second in the Amstel Gold Race and then tenth in Flèche Wallonne.
"I'm really happy to be back here racing again. I used to ride this race all the time and it was a big objective, so it's nice to be back here," Vande Velde told Cyclingnews at the team presentation on Saturday afternoon.
"I wasn't supposed to be here but Ryder Hesjedal is doing so well, that I want to be a part of it and help him out as much as I can. It's been so hard to watch the team do so well and not part of it. It's inspirational but at the same time I want to be amongst it. My form's coming good. I'm fit, but being race fit is a different animal. We'll see what I can do. As luck will have it, it's going to be 20 degrees tomorrow and so it's not so hard to come here. It's raining in Spain, so I'm lucky."
The wind could be a factor
Vande Velde rode the new final section of Liège-Bastogne-Liège with his teammates on Friday. He predicted the wind in the region could play a key factor in how the race evolves and is eventually decided.
"I'm glad I rode the course because my perspective was from 1999 and 2000 and half the time I was like 'where am I?" But a lot of what will happen will depend on the wind. It was coming from the north when we did it and so it was headwind coming back. A lot of the route is in the valley now and were going to have a tailwind tomorrow. That could completely change the race and it won't be as negative racing. It should be fun."
Romandie and then the Giro d'Italia
Vande Velde has ridden the Volta ao Algarve, Paris-Nice and the Vuelta a Catalunya this season and will continue to build towards the Tour de France with the Tour de Romandie and the Giro d'Italia.
Vane Velde wore the race leader's pink jersey at the 2008 Giro after the team won the team time trial. He is looking for similar success this year.
"It was great to get the pink jersey in 2008 and I chased it for another two weeks after that. I hope to do more of the same this year. If and when my wheels fall off, I'll take it easy. That strategy worked in 2008 when I went on to have a good Tour de France and I kind of set the template for it at Garmin, and Wiggins did the same thing last year."
Despite Dave Zabriskie targeting overall success in the Tour of California in May, Vande Velde will part of a strong Garmin-Transitions team at the Giro d'Italia.
"We've got Dave Millar and Dan Martin, Tyler and some of his lead out guys too, so it's a great team," he said.