CRANS-MONTANA, Switzerland (AFP) ̶ American Christian Vande Velde admits that aiming for stage victory on the Tour of Switzerland is not his priority, it’s more about finishing the race in one piece.
Vande Velde, who like much of the peloton is using the nine-stage race as a crucial top-up for the Tour de France, had one of his wishes come true Sunday when the first mountain stage was held in blazing sunshine.
But with the weather set to turn nasty on Monday’s mountainous third stage from Brig-Glis to Grindelwald, the 35-year-old would be forgiven for feeling apprehensive.
Last year, a crash suffered in the race’s opening prologue added to a litany of setbacks the American all-rounder has experienced in his career.
Vande Velde made it to the Tour de France in 2010 hoping to build on two consecutive top ten finishes (eighth in 2009, fourth in 2008). But on a chaotic and rain-hit stage two, where dozens of riders crashed after oil from a stricken motorbike was left on the road, disaster struck. Vande Velde was left with two broken ribs and had to pull out.
A year later and the American is counting his lucky stars it has been a crash-free season so far. The ambition to win is still there, but not at all costs.
“This week my expectation is to stay safe and out of trouble,” Vande Velde told AFP.
“I crashed on the prologue last year but now I’m way ahead of where I was (at the same point) the past couple of years, obviously because I’ve got no broken bones at this point in time.”
Vande Velde’s hopes for this year’s Tour were boosted with an “unexpected” fourth place finish in the Tour of California recently.
“I didn’t expect to be fourth in California, and I’ll be happy to keep surprising myself here,” he said.
“If the results are there for the taking then I’m going to take it. But I’m not going to over-stress myself.
“I feel good, I just came back from altitude training. It was a long time away from the family, so it was hard, but hopefully it will be worth it.”
With another four tough days of climbing left until next Sunday’s time trial finale in Schaffhouse, Vande Velde is expecting to see damage in the peloton.
“It’s going to be nasty,” he added, before admitting the race does have its merits as a crucial warm-up for next month’s Tour de France.
“When it’s decent weather here it can make all the difference.
“And I like the big block of work you can do here. There’s no way I would do this in training day after day, and you get to do some higher altitude climbs. It stresses you out and it’s harder.”
Vande Velde added: “We have a great team here. A better team than we’ve ever had coming into this race.
“A lot of times there’s a lot of insecurity and a lot of guys fighting for their Tour (de France) spot. Not this year, we don’t have that. We just have guys honing their form.”