Christian Vande Velde Feature Part I: Renewed motivation at 35 years of age
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Christian Vande Velde Feature Part I: Renewed motivation at 35 years of age

by Shane Stokes at 9:12 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
 
Retirement thoughts on hold after USA Pro Cycling Challenge turns things around

For part II of this interview, click here: 

Christian Vande VeldeGarmin-Barracuda rider Christian Vande Velde may be a few months away from his 36th birthday but the American is feeling renewed motivation for the sport, fifteen years after he turned pro.

He’d been considering when to call it a day for a couple of seasons now yet, with things turning around for him last summer, he’s now fully focussed again on what he can get out of the sport, not when.

“I’ve stopped saying that I was going to finish up after this year,” the all rounder revealed to VeloNation from the team training camp in Spain, where he is currently putting the finishing touches to his pre-season preparation. “I thought it was quite short-sighted of myself just to stop for no reason. There’s been a big difference after the Tour of Colorado last year [where he was second – ed.].

“Of course, success always plays a big part of how you perceive yourself within the peloton and whether the sacrifices are outweighing the success. I’m gonna keep things open in terms of retirement…I’d love to do the Olympics this year, and we’ll see where the ball falls after that.”

In some ways it seems like only yesterday when Vande Velde’s second phase of his career began. After years of being a domestique, he surprised many, himself included, when he finished fifth in the 2008 Tour de France. That placing later became fourth when Bernhard Kohl was disqualified, even if ASO didn’t officially upgrade the riders to fill the vacated third place.

Many expected that the result would be the start of an upward trend for the rider from Chicago. Self-belief boosted and benefiting from a new direction in the sport, Vande Velde built towards what he hoped would be a very good 2009 participation in the race. Unfortunately luck wasn’t on his side; a hard fall in that year’s Giro d’Italia left him with several broken bones and a race against time to regain fitness for cycling’s top event.

Unsurprisingly, his preparation was compromised by the accident. Starting the Tour with less racing than he would have liked cost him sharpness, and then any personal ambitions were put aside when his team-mate Bradley Wiggins showed he was a podium contender.

The Briton went on to finish fourth overall, almost ending up on the podium. Despite riding for him, Vande Velde finished a very solid eighth overall. Considering his injuries and a hampered build-up for the race, it was undoubtedly one of the most impressive rides of the Tour.

He resolved to bounce back but, unbelievably, crashed on precisely the same Giro stage in 2010 and suffered a broken clavicle. Once again he was forced out of that race; once again he battled back for the Tour, recovering and then getting into decent condition. However Vande Velde hit the deck on stage two, broke two ribs and had to pull out.

It’s easy to imagine the disappointment; fourth in 2009, ready to step up a level and make the most of the intersection of his developing talent and improving confidence, then being knocked back not once but in two successive Tours.

Picture then his feelings when that same run of poor luck continued in the 2011 event. He crashed three times on the opening stage and lost almost two minutes, finishing 174th. He then fell twice more in the opening week, yet still helped his Garmin-Cervélo squad to victory in the team time trial, and Tom Danielson to an eventual ninth place overall.

The team racked up four stage wins in all – the team time trial, one by Tyler Farrar and two by Thor Hushovd – and won the team classification, making it one of the most successful squads in the race.

As for Vande Velde’s own GC performance, he burned energy helping Danielson, but finished a solid seventeenth overall. It wasn’t what he had hoped beforehand, but was probably more than he expected after that blighted day one.

Mixed feelings, then mojo returns:

Looking back at those three weeks of racing, he weighs up how he felt then and now. “I guess the biggest thing that really stood out for me [at the time] was getting through the Tour,” he said, reliving that experience. “Things started out absolutely horribly on the first day, with me crashing a bunch of times, losing time and pretty much almost half my Tour being over from day one. Then, getting it together and winning the team time-trial the next day, then fighting on to take the team general classification, stages and Thor’s yellow jersey.

Christian Vande Velde“It took six months for it to sink in but, in hindsight, it was a really cool Tour. It’s also something I won’t forget. The biggest emotion at the time was that I didn’t get to perform to my maximum. That’s how I felt when I was leaving the Tour, but looking back at it now, it was a pretty special race.”

Part of his coming to terms with the disappointments of the race is how battling on helped him to pick up some pretty impressive results. Sixth in the Tour of Utah proved his condition was on the up, then netting second on two stages plus second overall in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge showed he still had it to fight for big wins.

The latter event completely turned things around for him, gave him a new perspective. If he’s changed his mind about retirement, it’s largely due to that race and the sensations he felt there. Competing well there has given him a new lease of life and could well pay off in some big results in the months ahead.

“To ride like my old self in Colorado was really special,” Vande Velde said, explaining how important the results were for him, “particularly as I had a lot of family and friends out there. It was fun, you know, to feel normal on the bike and ride like I have before.

“It’s a really hard sport and you sacrifice a lot, whether that be your family or just your health in general,” he elaborated. “It’s hard to sacrifice a lot of things and not to get anything out of it…especially after you’ve been doing it for twelve-thirteen-fourteen years. As a result you need something to carry you on: you need that one day you feel on top of it again.

“For some people it’s different, they need that all the time. Yet sometimes all you need is that one day, that glimmer of hope that you still got it. That feeling then propels you for the next week and the next week after that…then that culminates into a snowball effect and you almost win the Tour of Colorado. It was really important for me…”


In Wednesday’s Part II of this interview, Vande Velde talks about his pre-season preparations, his mentality and motivation plus his schedule and goals for the months ahead. His confidence is back and he’s got big targets in mind.

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