If there’s a silver lining to Christian Vande Velde coming to this Tour de France with pain and uncertainty, it’s that he’s been through it before and still managed a top-10 performance
For a second consecutive year the Garmin-Transitions GC leader enters the Tour nursing broken bones and uncertain of his overall chances.
Last year Vande Velde traveled to Monaco still healing from seven broken bones, including several vertebra and his pelvis, after a high-speed crash at the Giro d’Italia.
This time the American comes to Rotterdam once again recovering from injury, in pain, and off of the form that brought him a top-five finish in 2008. After breaking a collarbone at the Giro, he suffered insult to injury, fracturing ribs at the Tour of Switzerland just two weeks ago when a rider swept out his wheel in a corner.
In 2009 Vande Velde finished eighth overall, an impressive result due to the depth of his injuries but also considering he rode in support of fourth-place finisher Bradley Wiggins.
“I am nowhere near 100 percent,” Vande Velde said at a Garmin-Transitions press event Thursday morning at the team’s hotel. “It doesn’t hurt to ride in a static position, but any time I am doing things that use agility it puts more stress on my ribs, and breathing deeply hurts when the ribs contract and expand. It’s getting better, but I need the first week to pass so I can heal up, and I’m not optimistic to recover over the (stage 3) cobblestones.”
When he went down in Switzerland, Vande Velde was still recovering from the broken collarbone he suffered in May at the Giro, which he described as the worst clavicle fracture he’s had to endure.
“It was broken in three places, and required eight screws and a plate in surgery,” he said. “I’ve broken many collarbones, but never had one as bad as this one.”
In an ordinary Tour, Vande Velde might have time to recover during the first week, which traditionally offers up flat, field-sprint stages. However this year’s route, which utilizes the roads of Liege-Bastogne-Liege on stage 2 and the pavé of Paris-Roubaix on stage 3, offers little chance of that.
“I need to get through stage 2 and stage 3 without any crashes,” Vande Velde said. “I have a healthy fear of the cobblestone stage. Once you get on the cobbles, it’s hard, but the real fight is where you are entering. It’s going to be a free-for-all. And we haven’t even talked about what will happen if it rains.”
With only one major time trial, three weeks away in Bordeaux, Vande Velde knows his best hope for the classification is to survive the chaos of the early stages, limit his losses in the mountains, allow his injuries to heal up, and conserve as much as possible for the 52km stage 19 TT on July 24.
“It’s a long time trial, at the end of the race, and it could be quite windy,” Vande Velde said. “I tend to do well in long time trials at the end of a grand tour, and a long one like that in the wind could see riders take three or four minutes.”