SUPER-BESSE, France (VN) ─ Veteran American cyclist Christian Vande Velde knows well what a rollercoaster of luck and fitness the Tour de France can be. He finished fourth overall in the 2008 Tour, 11th in the 2009 Tour and crashed out of the 2010 competition with broken ribs. Well before that, he twice rode on U.S. Postal Service squads that delivered Lance Armstrong to overall victory.
This year, the Garmin-Cervélo rider is trying to keep himself off the ground and ahead of any field splits as the Tour de France lurches and crashes through a trying first week.
As with defending champion Alberto Contador, Vande Velde lost time on the first stage when caught up in late-race crashes. On Saturday’s climb up Super-Besse Sancy, Vande Velde finished safely within the elite front group.
“I feel good,” he said. “Yesterday was my first day that I felt good on the bike again. I had a bunch of crashes on that first day, and I came into the Tour a little shaky. But most of the bruising is starting to go away, and the inflammation is going away. I’m just fortunate enough to have stayed out of the crashes in the last few days.”
Because of the time loss on stage 1, Vande Velde sits 22nd on general classification, 1:57 behind teammate Thor Hushovd.
Besides the time loss, Vande Velde says that crashing steals from a rider’s recovery.
“It takes a lot,” he said. “ You don’t even realize it a lot of times until after the fact. You’re beat up but you don’t feel so bad with the injuries themselves, but then your recovery is not quite right. You’ve got a ton of internal bleeding going on you don’t realize. But when you’re fit, you do heal a lot faster. You’ve got a lot of blood running around. Still, the Tour is hard enough already, you don’t need to crash on top of it.”
To speed recovery, Vande Velde sees his chiropractor every night after the stage and also gets a massage.
“And I eat as much as I can,” he said with a laugh.
As for his form, Vande Velde said he is starting to come around. Like many GC hopefuls, Vande Velde aimed to come into the three-week race just shy of his top fitness.
“I’m definitely climbing every day, getting better and better,” he said. “Like we all saw this week, it’s a long, long race. It’s been a rough first week. I haven’t seen a first week like this in long, long time. Not because of intensity, or on-the-bike power, just because of crashing and nerves. It’s just being terrified.”