Vande Velde’s day in pink
By Andrew Hood
Christian Vande Velde stepped off the Slipstream-Chipotle team bus Sunday morning along the beach at Cerfalù with a big smile on his face.
Proudly decked out in the maglia rosa, Vande Velde was clearly enjoying his moment as the first American since Andy Hampsten won the 1988 Giro to wear the Giro’s leader’s jersey.
“We hope today goes just like yesterday, but we know it’s a complicated stage,” Vande Velde said. “To win yesterday’s stage was our big goal, everything else is just icing on the cake at this point.”
Vande Velde’s picture was splashed across the cover of Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, with the headline reading, “An American in Pink.”
On Saturday evening, the team celebrated its time trial victory with a champagne toast and a cake that read, “Bravi!” When the team stood for its toast, all the clients in the team hotel’s restaurant applauded for the team’s success.
On Sunday, the team was being realistic about its chances of defending the jersey. Slipstream knew that the final 4km of the hilly 207km stage could mean the team’s grip on the maglia rosa would be a short one.
With the steep finishing climb, with ramps as steep as 10 percent, riders such as Bettini, Di Luca and Rebellin were licking their chops. It would all come down to time bonuses.
“We’ll ride to honor and defend the jersey, but today’s stage isn’t a typical road stage to open a grand tour, so we’ll have to see what happens,” said Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, third overall. “There are a lot of guys close and the time bonuses are up for grabs. We’re so pleased to have won the stage, that this it’s all a bonus.”
The way the stage unfolded helped Slipstream’s chances. Two riders — David Loosli (Lampre) and Jéremy Roy (FDJeux) — extracted themselves coming off an early Cat. 2 climb to set up the day’s main breakaway.
Slipstream settled in comfortably at the front, with Danny Pate and Pat McCarty controlling the pace as the leading pair took the top points over the day’s rated climbs and, more importantly, gobbled up the top two time bonuses at the day’s intermediate sprint at Serradifalco with 64km to go.
Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), who started the day just nine seconds behind Vande Velde’s jersey, pipped Enrico Gasparotto (Barloworld) to claim the third-place time bonus.
Maggie Backstedt and Chris Sutton then ramped up the chase to trim the difference from 8:16 at 108km to 3:47 with 60km to go. The ex-Paris-Roubaix winner, decked out in his Swedish national jersey, led the pack home over the final third of the stage.
Things went pear-shaped at a railroad crossing with about 58km to go when David Zabriskie hit the deck. Zabriskie’s bike was in the middle of the road, but he was off the right side of the road. Zabriskie sat up, but was unable to get back on his bike.
Doctors checked his condition and he was transferred into a waiting ambulance. He was diagnosed with a fractured L1 vertabra, in what was described as a painful, but not a serious injury.
Slipstream’s New Zealand sprinter, Julian Dean, crashed along with Italian Enrico Gasparotto and Austria’s Christian Pfannberger (both Barloworld), but were able to continue the race.
When Vande Velde lost the jersey but just one second, it was a bittersweet end to what was an otherwise great day for the team.