Road

A conversation with Christian Vande Velde: Still looking ahead

Christian Vande Velde didn't have the Tour de France that he was hoping for. After an injury-free run into the Tour for the first time in three years, Vande Velde crashed three times in the first stage and barely rode out of the first half of the Tour after a string of other painful spills. While other GC favorites were sent packing, the 35-year-old toughed it out and was able later to make important contributions in the final week that helped Garmin-Cervélo win the team GC prize.

2011 Tour de France stage 19
Vande Velde on the Galibier. Photo: Graham Watson | grahamwatson.com

Christian Vande Velde didn’t have the Tour de France that he was hoping for. After an injury-free run into the Tour for the first time in three years, Vande Velde crashed three times in the first stage and barely rode out of the first half of the Tour after a string of other painful spills. While other GC favorites were sent packing, the 35-year-old toughed it out and was able later to make important contributions in the final week that helped Garmin-Cervélo win the team GC prize.

Vande Velde will race the Colorado tour later this month, looking to turn the form he carried out of the final week of the Tour into a strong performance. VeloNews recently caught up with Vande Velde to talk Tour, crashes and what Garmin’s great ride meant to the team.

Q. After the Tour, what’s ahead for the remainder of the season?

A. I am really looking forward to racing in Colorado. It’s going to be cool racing on those roads. Everyone is very excited about it. It’s going to be cool having stages on those old routes from the Coors Classic. I’ll also do Canada and maybe the worlds. I won’t shut the door on it if Ty (Farrar) want me to come in for him.

Q. This year’s Tour obviously didn’t work out as you hoped after your crashes, what were your personal expectations for this year’s race?

A. I had good form coming to the Tour. I was still able to finish in the top-20, so that reflects a little bit of what could have been. That’s the Tour. That’s how it goes. I am still really proud of what we accomplished.

Q. How bad were the crashes for you?

A. There were quite a few days I thought I would be packing it in. I hit the deck too many times to count. The only positive thing was that I was still able to ride my bike. I could still contribute. You could see a lot of people who went home, who weren’t even able to continue.
With the team having so much success, there was no time to feel sorry for myself. It was always good to have a goal to get through each day.

Whether it was the team GC, looking after Tom, defending the yellow jersey, leading out Tyler, that was good for me personally, to have something to focus on and forget the pain.

Q. Were the crashes really worse this year or did it appear that way because more the GC riders were abandoning?

A. It was way worse. It was really bad. There were a lot of bad crashes. I crashed hard four times, I was never myself after that. It was not fun in the first 10 days. It was frankly quite horrible. Small roads, then smaller roads, wind, rain and absolute panic in the bunch. Everyone wanted to be at the front, then there were crashes and people started to lose time. All the guys who were going for GC were fighting to be at the front. It just went on and on and on. There was never a let up. That’s just modern racing. That’s just what the Tour de France has become in the first week. The race is just on from start to finish. Until you get that first GC selection, everyone still has that dream inside them, so everyone has their priority to put their leaders at the front. The road is only 12 feet wide, there is only so much room for warm bodies. Having a big TT early would create more of a pecking order and let everyone know where they stand.

Q. Despite some crashes for you, Garmin had its best Tour ever, what did it mean for the team?

A. It’s huge for us. I was definitely skeptical coming in, because JV was pushing us on all fronts. You can start to wear yourself thin, but the first ambition was the TTT, then stage wins, then the yellow jersey and then the top 10. Ryder and I had some pretty gnarly crashes early and that took us out of GC contention real fast. TD stepped up nicely. The success was absolutely massive for us. Thor in yellow, defending the jersey for a week. Tyler winning a stage, Thor winning two, the yellow jersey, the TTT, and the team GC on top of all that.

It’s been a landmark Tour for us, for sure. After coming so close, it’s nice to have all that success after four years. I am scared for next year.

Q. The team GC prize was there for the taking toward the end of the race, describe the effort it took in the final stages to secure that.

A. It was always a subtle goal for the team GC. You cannot go into the race thinking about it, because it can drive you crazy. It’s a horrible thing to try to hold onto. We had a couple days when we had to throw everything in except the kitchen sink to retain the team GC.

The last two days in the Alps, we had some good rides, but the previous days before that, that’s when it took days off your life. It’s just so hard. All hell breaks lose when the break goes. It’s the last week of the Tour. Everyone has different ambitions. People are riding to defend jerseys, GC placings, going for a stage win. I’m really glad we could stick it out and push hard for that. We had come too far to let it slip away.

Q. What was your impression of Cadel Evans during the Tour?

A. Cadel rode a great Tour. His team kept him out of trouble. He took the initiative when he needed to. He didn’t cry or whine when the others didn’t work. He took the bull by the horns and rode up the Galibier. Andy had an amazing ride that day, but Cadel dug deep and saved his Tour that day. He singlehandedly took back time in the last 8km that saved him the Tour. There were quite a few days when he had ride defensively in the mountains. He knew more than anyone that this was his Tour to lose. Hat’s off to him. They had the jersey for just one day, but they had it on the right one.

Q. Do you still have some unsettled business with the Tour?

A. I have a contract with the team through 2012. I’d still like one more crack at the Tour. It’s awesome being part of a great team like this. I still love racing my bike. It’s never fun having bad luck, but like they say, if there’s no bad luck, there’s no good luck.