Christian Vande Velde had reason to smile following Monday’s summit finish up Hautacam. The Garmin-Chipotle captain remains within striking distance of the yellow jersey in third at just 38 seconds back. Vande Velde, however, believes his day could have turned out even better and quietly cursed a missed opportunity to make more of his great form.
The 31-year-old Vande Velde rode impressively up the day’s hors categorie steeps to finish 10th at 2:17 in the five-man group that included new leader Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) and arch-rival Denis Menchov (Rabobank).
It’s heady stuff for the domestique-turned-captain to be bumping shoulders with such company, but Vande Velde – who started the day third at 44 seconds back ? is on the form of his life and knows it might have gone even better.
“My best chance was today (to take yellow),” Vande Velde said. “I really feel like I missed out on a good opportunity a bit.”
Vande Velde safely made it up and over the fearsome Tourmalet and then hit the base of the decisive Hautacam waiting for the attacks to come.
CSC-Saxo Bank was dominating the stage and sent Carlos Sastre and then Frank Schleck on the attack. Vande Velde followed a counter-attack from Gerolsteiner climber Bernard Kohl, but then decided to ease up and wait for the big guns.
He expected GC favorites Evans and Menchov to set a steady pace up the long, grinding climb as Schleck rode away with Juan Cobo and Leonardo Piepoli of Saunier Duval-Scott.
Instead, Evans and Menchov ? two riders who aren’t known for taking the offensive ? were looking at each other rather than collaborating to chase down the dangerous Schleck.
“It was a bit frustrated, if anything. I felt good. Attacks went at the bottom and I really thought that Cadel and Menchov would set a better pace to bring it back,” he said. “There were a lot of attacks and they played a little cat and mouse. Attacking, sitting, attacking, sitting. We really lost a lot of time. I was really within myself today and I relied on them too much.”
Vande Velde quickly realized he hitched his wheel on the wrong wagon.
“They weren’t working together. They were attacking the heck out of each other. It was probably one of the worst places to be,” Vande Velde said. “Evans was during these massive surges and then he’d sit in, that probably killed us more than anything.”
Frustrated, Vande Velde ramped up the speed in the final kilometer.
“I went as hard as I could at the top. We were just wasting time,” he said. “It’s a rest day tomorrow and I wanted to leave it all on the road.”
Vande Velde heads into the first of two rest days on Tuesday wishing there were more mountains.
When asked what the biggest surprise so far in this Tour, he cited the troubles of Alejandro Valverde and Andy Schleck, but said the most pleasing is how he’s riding through the first half of the Tour.
“The biggest surprise? To be third after the first 10 days,” he said. “Tomorrow is a rest day and I feel like I recovered well from yesterday’s stage, I almost wish it was a mountain stage tomorrow because I really feel like I’m on top of my game right now.”
Vande Velde now heads into the Tour’s halfway point as a legitimate dark horse for overall victory.
When asked if he’d ride to defend a podium spot or dream for more, Vande Velde refused to discount anything.
“I am within a minute. Anything could happen. We want keep it close going into the final time trial,” Vande Velde said. “I know I am going to kill that final TT, that’s my biggest goal.”
Vande Velde said at the start of this Tour that he wanted to leave it all on the road. If he lives up to his word, Garmin-Chipotle might have to change their final-day party plans in Paris.