Peter Velits is confident that he has put his injury problems behind him as he faces into a new campaign in the colours of Omega Pharma-Quick Step. The Slovakian and his twin brother Martin arrive at the overhauled squad after two seasons with the now-defunct HTC-Highroad.
Third overall at the 2010 Vuelta a España, Velits entered last season with high aspirations for the general classification at the Tour de France. Although he acknowledged that his final 19th place finish in Paris did not quite live up to his expectations, he explained that a niggling injury in the early part of the year had compromised his preparation for the race.
“I can’t say that it was really bad or disappointing, but of course it could have been better,” Velits told Cyclingnews in Vilvoorde last week. “In the spring I had a little bit of a problem with my leg and then for the Tour, the preparation was not the best. The Tour, it was not a bad one but it also wasn’t a really good one.”
Velits’s physical issues in 2011 began as early as his first race, when he fell ill at the Volta a Algarve. He reckons that the heavy cold he picked up in Portugal triggered an inflammation of an old injury, and the entire first half of his season was duly compromised.
“I tore the muscle in a crash before and the doctors have told me that’s my weak point. So when I’m sick, I feel it there also,” Velits said. “The inflammation went to the muscle and it took quite some time until it was healed and that was the problem. Muscular problems can often take longer to sort out than broken bones.”
As a result of the injury, Velits endured something of a stop-start spring and reached his key preparation events for the Tour with a dearth of training miles in his legs. By the time July rolled around, he found himself short of the condition that had carried him to the Vuelta podium in 2010.
“With my problems, I couldn’t really finish the spring season out,” he said. “Then after that, I could not start the preparation because there were races coming. I immediately jumped to California and then after that Switzerland. So it wasn’t exactly what I would have wanted and I think could feel it also on the Tour. That’s why the Tour wasn’t as good as I wanted. But at least the leg is all sorted now."
Moving from Highroad
While Velits was pedalling his way to 19th place overall in Paris, rumours of the imminent demise of his HTC-Highroad team were continuing to gain traction. By the time the news was confirmed, Velits and his twin brother Peter had already agreed to join Omega Pharma-Quick Step, but in the weeks that followed, they would be joined by a number of former members of Highroad, including directeur sportif Brian Holm.
“We didn’t know who was going to join Omega Pharma-Quick Step so when we found out that there were more and more people from HTC coming to this team we were really happy,” Velits said.
Among the riders who made the switch from HTC-Highroad was Tony Martin, however and given that Levi Leipheimer will also line up for Omega Pharma-Quick Step at the Tour, it would be understandable if Velits had concerns about his role come July on a time trial-heavy route well-suited to all three men.
“No, it’s good that we’re going there with three GC guys who can help each other,” he insisted. “It always depends on how the situation during the race develops, maybe there’s a crash or one of us gets caught at the back and his chances are gone. Besides, I don’t think anyone of us has a problem helping the others. If there’s someone better than me, then for sure I have no problem in helping them.”
In a bid to avoid the illness and injury that stifled his 2011 campaign, Velits will begin the new season in warmer climes at the Challenge Mallorca and the Tour of Oman, as he works towards his first objective, Tirreno-Adriatico. After the Ardennes classics, his thoughts will turn to his Tour de France build-up.
“I’ll have a little bit of rest and then do some high-altitude training to get ready for California,” he said. “After that, I think I’ll fly back to St. Moritz again to do more altitude training, before going to the Tour de Suisse and the Tour de France.
“I already have a plan in my head of what I want to do in preparation for the Tour de France so I hope nothing’s going to break and there’s not going to be problems.”
The London 2012 Olympics are unlikely to feature on Velits’ agenda, however. Due to the vagaries of the qualification system, Slovakia has just one berth for the two road events, and he admitted that Peter Sagan represents the nation’s best chance of a medal at the Games.
“I don’t think we’re going to get more places, even if we ask for them,” Velits said resignedly. “Sagan has the most points, so definitely he is the first one who should go there, and he has the best chance if it comes to a sprint. But either way, whether it’s Sagan or me or somebody else, it’s going to be hard when there’s only one guy there.”