Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
By Andrew Hood
Garmin-Chipotle sport director Matt White has had a front-row seat to the team’s surprisingly good opening two weeks of the Tour de France.
Team captain Christian Vande Velde enters Saturday’s opening shot of the showdown in the Alps poised in third place overall. The team has been flying under the radar, but that’s bound to change if Vande Velde’s consistency continues through the Alps.
We caught up with Matt White ahead of Friday’s start to talk tactics looking ahead to the decisive climbing stages in the Alps. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: How have the past few days gone for the team?
Matt White: There’s been a lot of crosswinds, heat, high speeds. It hasn’t been easy. Today is going to be the same way. These stages take a lot of concentration, staying in position, avoiding crashes. Like the saying goes, you’re not going to win the Tour in these stages, but you can lose the Tour.
VN: How is the team holding up?
MW: Really good. We have a lot of new guys here, doing their first Tour, but they’re handling it really well. The morale is good. Now we’re entering the third week with a rider in third place overall. It couldn’t have been better.
VN: Vande Velde is third overall, how big of a surprise is that for you?
MW: He’s gotten to this point so far unscathed. He’s good. We knew he’d be good. We didn’t expect him to be this high in GC at this point. We were expecting top 10.
VN: Looking ahead to the alpine stages, what does Vande Velde need to do?
MW: Christian is a lot like Evans. He’s consistent in the climbs. He’s not an explosive climber. Christian needs to be consistent. If he can get through the Alps the same way he got through the Pyrenees, we’ll be in ideal position going into the final TT.
VN: Do you expect Christian to have much help in the mountains?
MW: It will all come down to the last climb. No one is going to have any teammates anyway. All the top GC teams will be expected to chip in on the chase. Ryder is a little tired. Trent Lowe is looking good. He’s 23 and it’s his first Tour, so we’re asking a lot from him. He’s motivated. He wants to be there for Christian. If he can help Christian get to the last climb, that would be great.
VN: If Vande Velde can arrive to the final time trial in more or less the same situation, can he win the Tour?
MW: Christian has never beaten Evans in a long time trial. Christian is as good as Menchov. His best characteristic is that Christian gets better and better over three weeks. That’s what we’re betting on. In the final TT, the most you can expect to take back is one or maybe two minutes at the most. What Christian needs to avoid is having one bad day.
VN: Evans is in the driver’s seat right now?
MW: If Cadel can race at his normal, every-day level, he’s the one to beat. He’s good in the time trial, he’s good uphill. The only chance anyone has is if Cadel has one bad day. So far, he never has. He’s never going to win many stages racing like that, but it doesn’t matter, he’s going to win the Tour.
VN: Do you think Evans will be isolated and CSC starts attacking, Evans won’t know who to follow?
MW: That’s what happened to him last year. He should have won last year’s Tour. He made the mistake trying to follow Rasmussen and Contador when they riding away ( to Plateau de Beille), that cracked him. He should have just rode at his own tempo. No one can drop him when he rides within himself. Instead, he went too deep and ended up losing a minute or whatever (1:52). If he had ridden within himself, he would have lost 20 seconds or so. If Cadel is smart in the Alps, he’ll ride at his own pace.
VN: So it’s up to CSC to attack?
MW: CSC is the best team in the Tour. They have to attack and they will attack. Andy Schleck is too fat back in GC, so we don’t have to worry about him. Same with Jens Voigt. I’m sure they will cause some damage, but the two guys we have to worry about are Carlos Sastre and Frank Schleck.
VN: Should Christian attack tomorrow to go for the jersey?
MW: We’re just laying low. Maybe we could have taken the jersey (at Hautacam), but we don’t have a strong enough team to defend the jersey for a week or more. At Super-Besse (stage 6), he attacked to win the stage and to try to take the jersey. Those were different circumstances. That was before the Pyrénées. If he pulled it off, he would have been the hero. It was worth the try to risk a little more there. He lost a few seconds (23 seconds to winner Riccò), but those few seconds won’t matter in Paris.
VN: Who is the most dangerous GC rider right now?
MW: Menchov. He’s the rider I’m more worried about than anyone else. He’s won three-week races before. He’s not afraid to attack when he needs to. I think he knows what he has to do. He’s no an explosive rider, either, but he’s consistent and rides smart tactics.
VN: Where does Vande Velde fit in? No one mentions his name as a threat?
MW: That’s good. We like that. We can play the joker a little bit. We have no real pressure. We’re in perfect position, just behind the favorites, but no one looks at us as a favorite.
VN: How does Saunier Duval leaving the race affect the tactics in the mountains?
MW: We’ll be riding a little slower on the climbs, that’s for sure! It’s better for riders like Cadel and Vande Velde that they’re not there. Cobo, Piepoli and Riccò were the only guys who could put Evans under pressure. Those guys are gone. It’s going to make life a little easier for Evans.
VN: Do you think that Silence-Lotto looks vulnerable?
MW: They’re a good team at getting Cadel through the flat stages and into the mountains. They’re going to be under pressure to try to bring Cadel to the last climb. He’s hoping Popovych can have the kind of form he’s had the past few years. On the last climb, no one’s going to have teammates anyway. If Cadel can cover all the attacks, Cadel can’t be beaten. If he rides within his limits, he’ll win the Tour.
VN: Vande Velde was phenomenal in the Pyrenees, what can you expect the same in the Alps?
MW: We’ll have a good preview tomorrow to Prato Nevoso. He can ride conservatively in the mountains. He has to stay with Evans and Menchov and just limit his losses. The hardest stage is to Alpe d’Huez. It will all go down there. The stage to Jausiers is also a dangerous stage. I don’t know the climb. I know they’re both very long and very hard. At this point of the Tour, one bad day and it’s all over.