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By Andrew Hood
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Chipotle) has been one of the revelations so far in the first week of the Tour de France.
Through the first opening seven stages, Vande Velde has ridden with consistency and strength to slot into fourth overall at just 44 seconds out of the yellow jersey.
After years in the service of others, Vande Velde is finally getting a crack at being a team leader, and he’s making the most of it. VeloNews spoke to Vande Velde ahead of Thursday’s stage to gauge his first week. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: After the first week of the Tour, you’re sitting fourth overall in GC, tell us how you feel about that.
Christian Vande Velde: It feels great. The best thing about it is that I don’t feel like I have gone 100 percent for my time. I don’t know if it would change my placing, but I still haven’t had to go 100 percent. I’m very happy with how it’s gone.
VN: You haven’t crashed or lost any time yet, has it been a near-perfect first week?
CVV: That’s the biggest thing. The cliché is that you could lose everything in the first week of the Tour, but you’re never going to win the Tour in the first week, but it’s totally true. It’s all about not getting hurt or not crashing, those kinds of things.
VN: Have you come into the Tour with your best condition ever?
CVV: Yes, bar none. I’ve never really felt so strong. I’ve never focused so much on the Tour before, because I was always working for someone else and had a different role. I never really knew how to focus on the Tour. When I was riding with Lance, I didn’t know how to prepare myself correctly. This team has been really good at letting us prepare perfectly for the Tour.
VN: Who has helped you most to prepare for the Tour?
CVV: Jonathan and Allen came up with the big plan. It was hard. It was really stressful for me and my family to do the things that I’ve done in the past two months. I’ve been away for so long. I am so thankful that I am doing so well so far that it hasn’t all been for nothing.
VN: It seems like the team’s had a smooth run up to the Tour this year?
CVV: I don’t think we have any regrets for this year. The hardest race for us this season was Paris-Nice when we really fell flat. It was a big deal at the time, because we wanted to do well to confirm the Tour invite, but now, no one’s going to remember what happened in Paris-Nice.
VN: What are you expectations for yourself for this Tour?
CVV: I was really open. I’m going into new frontiers. I never just looked after myself. I’ve never been the team GC leader before. My big goal was the top 10. I was pretty cautious about who I said that to. I wasn’t so sure in myself. The biggest thing is gaining the confidence in myself and having that confidence knowing that I can do it day in, day out.
VN: You made a nice attack late in Wednesday’s stage, were you going for the stage win or to set up Millar?
CVV: Yesterday I had really great legs. It was a risky move, but I just went for it. Only Piepoli could come with me and he’s one of the best climbers in the world. I know the big climbs are a lot different than a little cat. 2, but it was important to be there. If I was that good, I had a really good chance to take the jersey. If not, Dave (Millar) had a free ride to the finish and if he rode out of his skin, he could have taken the jersey. It was a calculated move. It was in our favor to do it.
VN: Your time trial was strong, how important was that?
CVV: I was well within myself during the whole time trial. That’s when I started to gain some confidence that I was among the best and that I still could give more and even do better.
VN: This Tour is wide open, who looks strongest so far?
CVV: Columbia looks good. Lotto has been the smartest, the way that Cadel has gone in the time trial and he always climbs well. It’s wide open and it’s going to depend on who really has the balls to go after it and make those attacks that are unprecedented. In the past, it’s been so controlled and one team dominated, but this year, there isn’t that one team who’s head and shoulders above the other teams.
VN: So that’s something you can exploit, what are your expectations for the Pyrénées?
CVV: It’s a huge test. I have no expectations. I just want to be up there with the other guys. After yesterday, I should have no problems.
VN: So the hope is to come out of the Pyrénées still in contention?
CVV: That’s the hope. The goal is to look back and not say that I shoulda, coulda, woulda and know that I left it all on the line everyday. That’s my goal for me personally in this Tour.