By Andrew Hood
Christian Vande Velde relished a day at the beach with his two young daughters over the past weekend because he knew it would probably be his last quiet day for a long time.
The Garmin-Slipstream captain is entering the heart of his racing season, with the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France looming as his main targets of the year.
For the Giro, Vande Velde wants to help his team defend their victory in the team time trial and get another crack at the pink jersey.
For the Tour, the 32-year-old wants to pick up where he finished off last year in his breakthrough performance and aim for the final podium in Paris.
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Vande Velde by phone last weekend in his apartment in Girona for a two-part interview. Here is part one:
VeloNews: It seems like it’s been a good start to the season, no crashes, no illnesses, a stage win at Paris-Nice, how has it been so far?
Christian Vande Velde: It’s been a solid spring. It’s been exactly what we planned for. I got a win. You don’t how much a win takes the pressure off, myself and the team. Then a day or two later, Tyler (Farrar) wins in Tirreno. The spring has been great. Now we’re doing a nice in-house training camp ahead of the Giro.
VN: Last year, the whole Giro team trained together in Girona, is that the same plan this year?
CVV: We just did that today. Everyone is coming back from Liège and we’ll get together here in Girona before the Giro. Then we’ll work specifically on the team time trial as well. I’ve been doing a lot of work on the mountains, doing some such you can’t do when you’re racing. It’s been a pretty demanding week.
VN: Will the team time trial in Venice be the main goal again at the Giro?
CVV: It’s definitely going to be our main objective. We want to defend the team time trial victory. It’s always a little scary when you have your main goal ahead of 21 days of racing, when your first day being that big in a 21-day race. That’s not to say we’re not going to try to win a stage and get into breakaways or try to defend the jersey if we get it.
VN: So trying to post a strong GC overall isn’t part of your Giro plan?
CVV: Not for the whole race. I’d like to be up there in the hunt in the first week or so. Every year is a little different and this year we go straight into the mountains lickety-split. That will make the Giro completely different from last year.
VN: Riders like Sastre and Menchov are saying they want a strong Giro GC and still hope to win at the Tour, but that’s just not what you want to try to do?
CVV: Not this year, but maybe in the future. It’s just the way my calendar was last year and it worked out pretty good. I never had that in mind to try to do well in the Giro and as of right now, I’m not changing my mine. It takes a lot of dedication to come into the Giro 100 percent and then try to do it again for the Tour. You have to have cross your T’s and dot your I’s. Everything has to be just right. It’s a lot of work and a lot of stress on yourself and your family. We’ll see how things play out this year. If you’re feeling good and you’re up front, you can try. But the biggest thing is you don’t want to damage yourself by going to too deep and not being able to recover. You don’t want that kind of work load. If you’re not 100 percent and you dig too deep to try to get some GC result, especially if it’s for something like 11th that’s not really that big of a deal, it’s not worth going too deep. When you’re at the Tour at 100 percent, you can make those big efforts.
VN: The TTT course is on the Lido island and should be flat and fast, what do you know about the course?
CVV: When you think of Italy and a team time trial, that’s pretty terrifying sometimes. Last year, the course wasn’t so bad in (in Sicily), apart from a few potholes. From what I could see in some photos I saw of Liquigas training on it, it looks like it’s on big roads for the most part. Everyone has to be there on Wednesday evening, so we’ve built in some buffer to do a recon, but I think it’s pretty straightforward.
VN: The rivals will be the usual suspects?
CVV: Yes, Liquigas, Astana, Saxo Bank, Columbia, the Italian teams are always up there. They’re always more motivated and you know they will be ready for the Giro.
VN: Looking back almost a year after the victory, so how important was the TTT in last year’s Giro?
CVV: It was massive. I don’t think we’ll realize how big it was until we look back 10 years from now. It was a really big deal. I had a win at Circuit de la Sarthe and I am not sure how many other wins we even had before that. It’s still probably the biggest win we’ve ever had. It was just amazing. The team time trial just brings so much, the stage win, the pink jersey, all on the first day of our first grand tour. It really showed the solidarity of the team.
VN: Some people were not taking the team very seriously, how important was the victory in terms of earning credibility?
CVV: Until we really put it together that day and did it, I think some people weren’t looking at us in the way they do now. In the same time, it really changed how we looked at ourselves. We proved that we could do it, that we worked together and we could win. It was no more just getting fourth or third or second. We had 20 days of racing staring us in the face, so we couldn’t go party that night, but we had a little champagne.
VN: And what significance was the pink jersey for you?
CVV: It was huge for me. It was really a big deal for me personally. It was very profound. As far as my career goes, it’s probably the most important thing I’ve done. It kept me at the front of the race, being only one second out of the lead, I kept chasing the jersey for the first 10-11 days. That’s when I started to realize I had what it takes to fight with the best. Everything happened by chance, but it pushed me in the direction I needed to go. It was almost like a reassurance and it opened my eyes to what I could do.
VN: Was it really true that the team didn’t designate you as first across the line?
CVV: Yes, it just happened that I was first. We decided that we didn’t want to do that. Can you imagine you lose the race by a half-second because you were trying to put one rider into the front in the final kilometer? We couldn’t risk that. I just saw the sign with one kilometer to go and I was behind Julian (Dean) and went to the front with 600 meters and gave it full gas to the line.
VN: How much of a wait did the team have before the final team finished?
CVV: We had almost everyone behind us still. We had a big wait, at least one hour. Everyone was changed, prepped and ready to go. We even drove the bus up to the podium. That wait was long. Everyone was cussing, yelling at the TV, people were freaking out watching the final teams. I tell you, it was a good time. There hasn’t been so many teams as giddy as us on the podium. We really enjoyed that moment.
VN: After the Giro last year, the entire team went to St. Moritz, is that the same plan for this year?
CVV: Probably not St. Moritiz, we’re thinking somewhere around here, either Andorra or La Molina (in the Pyrenees). It was mentally and physically hard to go up to altitude after the race. On the Monday after the Giro, we all drove straight up to St. Moritiz, with wives, girlfriends, kids all in tow. It was hard after four weeks, all you want to do is go home and unpack the suitcase, but we went back to another hotel for 10 days. It wasn’t easy to do, but we tried to make the most of it. I think it paid off.
VN: How did having the Giro in your legs help you later in the Tour?
CVV: It just makes you physically stronger. The Giro was so hard last year. It was unbelievable how much climbing we did. It was very demanding, so you could never do the same thing in training. If you could, God bless you then, because you’d have to have some serious mental power to smash the pedals like that in training. It’s the ideal way to prepare for the Tour.
Check back tomorrow when Vande Velde discusses the plan for the Tour de France and why he wishes he followed Carlos Sastre on Alpe d’Huez last year.