LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) — Christian Vande Velde starts the Tour de Romandie Tuesday with an eye on the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. He’ll help Garmin-Barracuda teammate Ryder Hesjedal in his bid to win the Giro and then have his own chance in July.
Hesjedal is “going for it,” Vande Velde told VeloNews. “We gave him that cap early in November and he’s taken it in stride. Everything’s going to plan for him.”
Vande Velde parachuted into the Ardennes classics last week to help his teammates at La Flèche Wallonne Wednesday. He also wanted to get some racing in after catching a cold following the Volta a Catalunya.
“I was sick as a dog,” he said with his usual grin. “I haven’t been sick like that since high school. It sucked so bad.”
A light rain whipped with the wind as he signed in for the Belgian mid-week classic. He joked with teammates Dan Martin and Hesjedal, maybe telling them about 1999 when he raced in the snow. Or in 2001 and 2002, racing with Lance Armstrong.
“I remember with George [Hincapie], with Jonathan [Vaughters]. It’s like the best of times and the worst of times. You stay in the hotel room for nine days, you’re ready to kill each other, you’re going nuts and you’re getting fat and out of shape. It’s either you’re going up or you’re down.”
Vande Velde looked to be in shape in Belgium, though covered with several layers of clothes. He only flew in from Girona for the Wednesday race and then took off for Switzerland, for Romandie. He is finding his top form heading into the Giro before making a run at the Tour de France.
Vaughters gave Hesjedal “the cap” to lead Garmin in the Giro last fall. The Canadian placed seventh in the Tour in 2010 and has a real chance at winning the Italian grand tour. The race starts in Denmark on May 5, enters Italy, starting with a team time trial in Verona, travels south and back north for a mountainous romp.
“It’s stupid right off the bat: the rest day’s a flight and then a team TT the next day. It’s a lot of stress,” Vande Velde said.
“We have a good team, for sure. We have a well-rounded team. A lot of times we are just going for the team time trial, or going for Tyler [Farrar]. This year, we’ve given the race a lot of respect.”
Vande Velde and his Garmin squad know the Giro podium; he became the first American in 20 years to wear the maglia rosa after the team won the stage 1 team time trial in 2008 — in its first-ever grand tour stage. He has plans to get Hesjedal to at least the third step in Milan when the race wraps up on May 27 before he starts thinking about July. With over 100 individual time trial kilometers at the Tour, he considers this year one of his best chances to win.
Vande Velde finished fifth at the Tour in 2008 and returned to place eighth the following year, while supporting Bradley Wiggins’ fourth-place ride. In 2011, he lost time in the brutal first week and turned his focus to the team classification, which Garmin won.
“It’s the same thing. If I get through the Giro ok and have a good rest, the doors are wide open (in the Tour),” he said. “I’ve always said that the biggest obstacle for most people is just getting there fit and ok.”
Reaching the Tour “ok” has been an issue for Vande Velde in the past. Heavy stage 3 crashes at the Giro in 2009 and 2010 left the Illinois native with fractured ribs and a broken collarbone, respectively, but he returned in time to start the Tour both years.
When asked last spring whether he would start the Italian race in 2011, Vande Velde told VeloNews, “Hell no!… My relationship with the Giro started off really well, but it ended horribly, so I am separating ties with her.”
That relationship appears on the mend and Vande Velde is hoping the Tour de Romandie and the Giro d’Italia leave him with the foundation he needs for July.
“I’m definitely trying to get on the TT bike a little bit more,” he said. “Races like Romandie and the Giro are great preparations for that.”
Read Vande Velde’s opinion about why some riders convicted of doping are treated differently than others in Perceptions of a doper: Part II
Also watch the video: The Barracudas of the peloton