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By Andrew Hood
It’s going to take more than a nasty crash to keep Christian Vande Velde from finishing this year’s Vuelta a España.
The 31-year-old American is racing what’s his last major European race in a Team CSC jersey before switching to the up-and-coming Slipstream squad for the 2008 season and he wants to go out on a winning note.
“I didn’t want to stop the race. The truth is, I felt horrible and I’m still pretty beat up. I still don’t feel great,” Vande Velde told VeloNews. “I want to go out with CSC on a good note. I hope to feel better in the coming days.”
Vande Velde crashed twice in the Vuelta’s second stage, the first time breaking his helmet and banging up his back in a high-speed, mid-race crash in the peloton. The second spill came in a finish-line pileup as the bunch roared into Santiago de Compostela for the sprint.
Despite the pain, Vande Velde posted an excellent performance in Tuesday’s decisive climbing stage up the steep Lagos de Covadonga climb deep in the heart of the Picos de Europa.
Two other CSC teammates worked into the day’s huge 35-rider breakaway, and Vande Velde waited until team captain Carlos Sastre caught him, then buried himself for the middle part of the 12.6km climb to help set the tempo among the favorites before peeling off.
“The stage worked out perfect. We talked to Bjarne (Riis) and said in a perfect world, Chris (Anker Sorensen) could try to win the stage and I could help Carlos on the final climb. It worked out just as we imagined,” Vande Velde said. “I pulled as long as I could. We’re all here to help Carlos and I want to be there for him and the team.”
Vande Velde said he’s still unsure whether he’ll race the world championships in Germany.
Either way, he’s packing his bags and leaving Team CSC after a successful three-year run that saw Vande Velde return to his best after a string of health problems during his stint with U.S. Postal Service.
Vande Velde won the Tour of Luxembourg last year for his first European victory and then followed that up with second overall at the Tour de Georgia this year.
The Chicago native says it wasn’t an easy decision to leave CSC and join Slipstream, a smaller, growing team looking to make a name for itself in Europe.
Vande Velde is one of the bigger American names that team manager Jonathan Vaughters lured to join Slipstream. Others new American riders include Tom Danielson, Dave Zabriskie and Tyler Farrar.
“I’ve been talking with Jonathan since 2005 about coming to the team. This year they came to the table with a very serious offer. It wasn’t an easy decision to make,” Vande Velde said. “This is the No. 1 team in the world. Everything here is so professional, so well organized. I had no reason to leave Team CSC, but I am looking forward to a new challenge.”
More than anything, Vande Velde said he is looking forward to racing for an American team again and helping out some of the younger riders.
“I can’t say I haven’t been so excited for a training camp in a long, long time. There’s not going to be any deserts in Africa or forests in Denmark,” he joked, referring to Team CSC’s legendary team-building camps. “We’re going to be in Boulder and I’m looking forward to showing some of the Euro riders my old home town.”
Vande Velde will maintain his residence in Girona, Spain, and expects to be in the most important events in Europe despite Slipstream’s non-ProTour status.
“If we can get a wild-card bid to the Tour, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t with the level of team they’re building, my racing schedule should almost stay exactly the same,” he concluded. “If everything goes right, it will barely change.”
Rubiera still looking
José Luis “Chechu” Rubiera was one of the cornerstones in Lance Armstrong’s dominating Tour de France run, riding alongside the Texan in five of his seven consecutive Tour victories.
But with the imminent collapse of the Discovery Channel team, the 34-year-old Spanish rider is facing the prospect of a forced retirement.
“I had a contract for next season with Discovery Channel, but with the unfortunate news that the team is folding, I am still looking for a team,” Rubiera told VeloNews earlier this week. “I want to race for one more year, but I won’t ride for just any team or any wage. If the contract and the sport conditions are correct, I might end my career with this Vuelta.”
Rubiera, like many of his teammates, is scrambling to try to find a contract for 2008. According to Discovery Channel’s web page, only eight riders have signed contracts for 2008 and beyond.
Rubiera admitted with the closure of teams such as Discovery Channel and Unibet.com, there are suddenly a lot of riders on the market looking for jobs. Riders say teams are offering less money because they know there’s a glut of talent on the market.
Speaking on Spanish television Thursday, Rubiera elaborated on his quandary.
“I had a very contract for next year with Discovery Channel. Even though we knew earlier this season that Discovery Channel would be leaving as the title sponsor, we never thought that the team wouldn’t be able to find a new sponsor,” Rubiera said.
“With the success we’ve had with Armstrong and then with Contador, the fact that the team has never had a doping positive, the professional level of this team, we never even thought that it would end like this. So there are suddenly quite a few of us who had contracts for next season who now are looking for a team.”
A pro since 1995, Rubiera said he’s been “lucky” throughout his career to ride with important teams and to earn a good salary.
Still, he’d like to race one more season and he’s hopeful something will come together in the coming weeks.
No world’s for Botero
There won’t be a world championships this season for Colombian rider Santiago Botero.
According to a report in El Tiempo, the 2002 world time trial champion has cited fatigue after a long racing season in Latin America as his reason for skipping a trip to Germany later this month.
Botero returned to Colombia after his name was linked to the Operación Puerto doping scandal last year in Spain. Botero was suspended by his Phonak team and left off the Tour de France squad after his name allegedly popped up in police files.
Botero admitted to knowing ringleader Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, but insisted he never doped with the controversial Spanish doctor. Colombian officials dropped any official inquiry and he was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Botero joined the Une-Orbitel team this season and won the Tour of Colombia.