By Andrew Hood
Christian Vande Velde flew Friday to Italy to join his Team CSC teammates for its January camp, but it almost wasn’t meant to be.
Vande Velde came close to retiring last year after struggling through injuries in the first half of the 2005 season, but strong support from Team CSC boss Bjarne Riis helped the 29-year-old bounce back during last year’s Vuelta a España.
“Last year was really hard on me,” Vande Velde told VeloNews. “I was really close to saying that’s it and going on to other things in life. When you’re racing with one arm tied behind your back, it’s a horrible feeling. If you cannot contribute to the team, I don’t want to be there.”
Despite the struggles last spring, Vande Velde finished the year strong and enters what will be his ninth year as a professional with new perspective and new optimism.
“I’m through that bad period and I’m having a good time again on the bike. I’m looking forward to this year,” he said. “Last year, I spent too much thinking about the things that were going bad. This year I will keep it positive. I’m excited to be here.”
Vande Velde has been struggling with back problems for the past several seasons. His frustration was one reason why he decided to leave his longtime home at U.S. Postal Service at the end of the 2003 season to take a chance with Liberty Seguros in 2004.
Last year, he made the leap to join Dave Zabriskie as the new Americans at Team CSC. Zabriskie, of course, rode to victories in the Giro d’Italia and snagged the yellow jersey at the Tour de France after winning the opening prologue.
Vande Velde, however, struggled through the spring and seriously considered putting a close to his racing career. Only encouragement from Team CSC manager Bjarne Riis convinced him to stick it out through the season.
“The first half of last year was kind of a write off. I didn’t get going and I was always a little bit behind. The spring was really horrible,” he said. “By the Vuelta, I went from strength-to-strength.”
After finishing the Giro d’Italia, team doctors and physical therapists helped Vande Velde work through his problems, allowing him to rebound in the Vuelta a España and help Team CSC clinch the ProTour team title with a strong late season.
“The team was very supportive,” he said. “They gave me the second opportunity in the second half of the year able to get my body together and get back to riding like I should.”
VeloNews caught up with the 29-year-old Friday morning just before he caught a plane for the short flight from his European base in Girona, Spain, to Pisa, Italy, where he’ll join his teammates for 10 days of hard training.
Like many of the American contingent racing in Europe, Vande Velde has called Girona home-away-from-home since the late 1990s. This year, however, he spent the winter off-season in Europe in his new home along the golf course at Girona instead of returning to the United States.
He and his wife had more time to explore the local culture and vacationed in Ireland. Instead of hammering the bike in Boulder, Vande Velde rode with local riders and practiced his Spanish. He found the experience invigorating and that helped him rediscover his passion for racing.
“In racing, you can have a bad day on the bike, then the next day, the sun is shining and you’re feeling good again,” he said. “I’m a little stronger this season and I’m going to be a little more relaxed going into the season.”
Right now, Vande Velde’s racing schedule looks similar to last year’s program, with scheduled stops at the Giro and the Vuelta, but he didn’t discount vying for a spot on the Tour de France team.
“You can never count anything out. I would love to go to the Tour,” he said. “With 30 guys on this team, you never know how things will work out with injuries and form.”
Bouygues Telecom hoping for more in ‘06
French super team Bouygues Telecom is hoping it can put down some performances in the upcoming season to give French fans something to cheer about.
The well-funded French team had its official presentation Thursday in Boulogne-Billancourt with the theme of a victorious 2006 season underlying the affair’s agenda. Last year, the team only brought home nine wins, so there’s certainly room for improvement.
“Our sponsor doesn’t impose on us a quantitative objective. I just told my guys to try to weigh more in the races than last year,” said team manager Jean-Réne Bernaudeau. “I’d happily trade the yellow jersey of (Thomas) Voeckler in 2004 for a stage win. We don’t have a real road captain or leader. The experiment with Joseba Beloki was a fiasco. When you have one strong leader, the others are frustrated. On our team, everyone has a chance.”
Bernaudeau will count on veterans Laurent Brochard and Didier Rous to return to form while a trio of younger pro – Anthony Geslin, Voeckler and Jérôme Pineau – could be reaching the peak of their strengths.
With the majority of the riders French (Spanish rider Xavier Florencio and Dutchman Stef Clement are the only non-Frenchies on the team), the team will be looking to impose its will on the French Cup series as well as major ProTour races on French soil, such as Paris-Nice and the Tour.
Bouygues Telecom for 2006
Walter Bénéteau (F)
Giovanni Bernaudeau (F)
Olivier Bonnaire (F)
Franck Bouyer (F)
Laurent Brochard (F)
Sébastien Chavanel (F)
Mathieu Claude (F)
Stef Clement (Nl)
Pierre Drancourt (F)
Pierrick Fédrigo (F)
Andy Flickinger (F)
Xavier Florencio (Sp)
Yohann Gène (F)
Anthony Geslin (F)
Maryan Hary (F)
Vincent Jérôme (F)
Christophe Kern (F)
Arnaud Labbe (F)
Yoann Le Boulanger (F)
Laurent Lefèvre (F)
Rony Martias (F)
Alexandre Pichot (F)
Jérôme Pineau (F)
Anthony Ravard (F)
Franck Renier (F)
Didier Rous (F)
Matthieu Sprick (F)
Thomas Voeckler (F)
More ProTour teams for Mallorca Challenge
More ProTour teams will start next month’s Mallorca Challenge, the Spanish race that’s becoming the favorite for many riders to ramp up their racing season.
According to race organizers, the UCI is expected to waive its 50-percent limit on ProTour teams that can start the race Feb. 5-9, opening the door for 12 ProTour teams to be among the 20-team field. Under current UCI rules, the number of ProTour teams is limited in races on the continental calendar.
Several of the teams, including Phonak, T-Mobile, Gerolsteiner and Illes Balears, will already be on the Spanish islands for pre-season training camps. Pro Tour teams that want to race the Mallorca Challenge
Perhaps the biggest news coming out of the Bouygues Telecom presentation is that mullet poster boy Laurent Brochard has changed his trademark hair style. Perhaps the more aerodynamic do will help the veteran Frenchman score a few more wins in 2006.
Italian pro Alberto Tacconi has decided to hang up the cleats. The two-year pro with the Italian continental team Miche will instead dedicate himself to a pizzeria he’s opened in Florence.