Christian Vande Velde Feature Part II: Aiming for top five in Tour de France
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Christian Vande Velde Feature Part II: Aiming for top five in Tour de France

by Shane Stokes at 7:13 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews, Tour de France, Olympics
 
Garmin-Barracuda rider feeling ambitious about Tour and Olympics

Christian Vande VeldeWith 2011 ending on a high note thanks to second overall in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Christian Vande Velde has got his confidence back and has a fully-renewed motivation for the sport.

As he told VeloNation in part I of this interview, his performance in the Colorado race put him back to where he felt he should be; performing at a very high level and able to fight for the victories. That boost has taken his mind off when he should retire; instead, he’s focussed on chasing big results again, believing he’s got more left to give.

Vande Velde heads into the 2012 season with big targets in mind. After placing fourth in the 2008 Tour, he has been affected by injury in the race since then, but believes that he can once again contend. He’ll be 36 in July, but that’s not a concern; didn’t Cadel Evans just have his best performance ever at 34?

“I’d like to be in the top ten, top five again in the Tour de France,” he told VeloNation, setting out his goals. “It is definitely a great parcours for myself this year, with the three time trails and not so many mountain top finishes. I’m really looking forward to it

“I have the same aim as I did last year…to arrive healthy at the Tour de France, and take it from there. I know that if I get through the Giro and rest up well, then I will definitely be in with a shout in the Tour.”

Talk of the Giro d’Italia may surprise people. After all, Vande Velde crashed on stage three of the race in both 2009 and 2010, fracturing bones, and said he wouldn’t be back. Last season he opted to ride the Amgen Tour of California instead, and seemed content with that choice.

Now, one year on, he’s ready to go back to the Italian race again. What happened to turn things round?

Vande Velde explains that his decision is based on what he observed in 2011; specifically, how his body responded after digging deep over three weeks. “Every time I’ve ever raced a Grand Tour I always performed better afterwards,” he said, knowing that his runner-up slot in the USA Pro Cycling Challenge illustrates that perfectly.

“It takes a lot of work for me to get one hundred percent on top of my game. So, yeah, I’m gonna go and do the Giro again. I’ll hopefully be able to help Ryder [Hesjedal, his Garmin-Barracude team-mate], and to get a good result or two there.”

By the latter, he means that he wants to perform well on a couple of stages to show that his condition is developing. He isn’t aiming for more than that. “I’m definitely not going there as team leader,” he clarified. “I’m not going there to try to do GC for myself. I’m going to be strong and ready to get good results for myself, but mostly I’m going to try to do well in the team time-trial and to help Ryder to achieve a good result there.”

The decision to return to the Giro is an interesting one. Many riders have claimed in recent years that the Italian race leaves them too tired for the Tour de France. That was seen last year in the case of Alberto Contador, who dominated the race but was below his usual level in the Tour itself. Yet the same was also seen with other riders in recent years, including 2010 Giro winner Ivan Basso and 2009 champion Denis Menchov.

Christian Vande VeldeHowever there’s reason to believe that the 2012 Giro d’Italia could be different. For one, organisers have ensured that the tough stages are more spread out than they were in 2011; for another, the race will have less transfers, meaning riders should get to their hotels earlier and have more time to recover. Over three weeks, that should make a difference.

“As regards difficulty, in most of these races it’s all about the weather,” he explained. “If the weather is bad, then the demands on the riders change. That really plays a big role on the Giro. Also, if you go for the GC, you pummel yourself in trying to win….that can be hard to back up with another good ride in the Tour.

“However if you race really hard and try to get the pink jersey, but then pull the handbrake in the last week, I think it’s a completely different animal. I think that’s manageable,” he asserted. And, for a rider like Vande Velde, who has to go deep to really build form, it could make all the difference when it comes to getting his maximum performance in the Tour.

Everything going perfectly to plan thus far:

One encouraging aspect about riding strongly in the latter part of the season is how it sets riders up for the following year. Being in good form in the last races puts them in a positive, motivated frame of mind heading into the winter months. It also means that there’s less hard work to be done to get into shape for the new year. It’s win-win, in other words.

Vande Velde is enjoying the benefits of this. “I feel really good. I don’t feel like I’ve stressed myself this winter, whereas sometimes you are like ‘ah, man, I gotta do this, I gotta do that’,” he explained. “[Those times] you are really pushing yourself through the holidays. Sometimes you feel you are burning the candle too much at both ends. But this year, I came out of the season really good.”

It makes all the difference. “When you finish your last races in good form, when you are healthy and fit, I think it gives you kind of a head start going into the new season. Other times, when you finish early due to injury or sickness or you are just completely destroyed at the end, it takes you much longer to get going.

“This year, I just got that boost and it made for a much more enjoyable off season. The biggest thing is that I feel mentality good and am ready for the season to begin.”

Vande Velde and his Garmin-Barracuda team-mates have just finished up a training camp in Calpe in Spain. Prior to that, he returned to Europe from the US on January sixth, encountering a far milder winter in Girona than in previous years. That too has helped his preparation for the races to come. He’s trained with team-mate David Millar and several other local riders, clocking up the kilometres in bright weather, and has really enjoyed being on the bike. Things are flowing well, in other words.

Countdown to competition:

Nineteen days remain until he faces the first starting pistol of the year, and he’s looking forward to the moment. He’ll begin as he did in 2011, heading to the Tour of Oman and testing himself there. Vande Velde was fifth eleven months ago, a strong result.

Christian Vande VeldeOnce that is done, Paris-Nice is a possibility, then he will go on to do the Volta a Catalunya, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and perhaps one or two other events. The exact programme is yet to be inked out, but he knows the broad frame that he will follow.

After using the Giro to get ready, he’ll line out in the Tour de France with big ambitions in mind. If all goes to plan, he’ll race as he did in 2008, fighting for a podium place.

As he stated, the 2012 route puts a good emphasis on time trials; those stages plus some solid mountains could suit him well.

The Tour is not the only target, though. After performing as well as he can there, he’ll move on to his second major goal; the London Olympics.

“I’m still upset that I didn’t get a chance to do the time-trial in Beijing,” he revealed, explaining why the race is on his mind. “Then again, Levi [Leipheimer] got third place in it, so it is hard to complain.

“This time, if I get to do the time-trial, that’s great; if not, I’d still love to do the road race. If it does come down to a sprint, I’d love to see Tyler Farrar get up there. But the more I look at it these days, I really don’t see a sprint as being something certain.”

That’s a view that is shared by quite a few pro riders. Far for being tailor-made for sprinters like world champion Mark Cavendish, the climb on the circuit is potentially hard enough to shake things up. “I think it’s going to be a really hard race, I think it’s going to be an open race, especially with five man teams,” he said. “Being 250 kilometres and nine times around Box Hill is going to make it really hard.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he concluded, his confidence and enthusiasm back in place.


For part I of this interview, click here:

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