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By Andrew Hood
Christian Vande Velde is facing a busy schedule in coming weeks, with the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France looming as his main targets of the year.
For the Giro, Vande Velde wants to help his team defend their victory in the team time trial and get another crack at the pink jersey.
For the Tour, the 32-year-old wants to pick up where he finished off last year in his breakthrough performance and aim for the final podium in Paris.
VeloNews European correspondent Andrew Hood caught up with Vande Velde by phone this past weekend in his apartment in Girona for a two-part interview. Here is part the second installment of that conversation with Christian Vande Velde, the first part of which you can find here.
VeloNews: Looking ahead to the Tour de France this year, what are your goals?
Christian Vande Velde: I’d love to finish on the podium. We’ve also set some massive objectives with the first time trial in Monaco and with the team time trial. We really want to do well there, so first things first. I haven’t seen any of the Tour courses yet. We’ll do that in June.
VN: Some people were saying early on that you could be top-5 last year, but how big of a surprise for you was your Tour performance last year?
CVV: Big, no way did I expect that. Maybe some other people did, saying I could be on the podium, but I never started the Tour thinking I would be able to do that. I was still saying top-10. Things went perfectly last year. Sure, there were a few coulda-shoulda-woulda moments, but overall, things went very well and I have to be very satisfied with how it went.
VN: What was the key moment of the race last year when you began to believe in yourself?
CVV: Hautacam was the key. I started to believe after the first time trial. I didn’t go so deep and I had a really good ride (note: 8th at 37 seconds slower). I was a little apprehensive about going too deep and I still had a great time, so I knew I had better form than I thought I did. Also when I attacked on that stage (Super-Besse) when Riccò won, I was surprised on how good the legs felt. But it was really at Hautacam when I started to believe in myself.
VN: So everything was going well until the stage to Jausiers when you got gapped on the Bonette, what happened there?
CVV: That was really hard. It was a matter of just being a little bit off in those two kilometers and not being able to come back. Andy (Schleck) really put it to me. That was hard to take and it was hard to try to regroup for the next day after a day like that, which was Alpe d’Huez. Ryder (Hesjedal) did an amazing job that day. He was away in the breakaway, so he had to time to regroup to be able to help me. He did a great job pacing me to the top. We didn’t lose any more time to the favorites and maybe I was a little too ambitious on the descent. The fall wasn’t anything special. It was just coming in a little too hot into a switchback. It was just enough to lose momentum and that was a really difficult descent.
VN: How important was it to be able to bounce back the next stage up Alpe d’Huez?
CVV: I really wanted to show myself at Alpe d’Huez and prove to everyone else that what I was doing was a fluke.
VN: How surprising was it to see Sastre ride away from everyone like that?
CVV: Very, especially if you knew him like I did after being his teammate. In the years before, Carlos was always the guy to let everyone else go crazy and then he would steadily pick through all the flack. So it was very uncharacteristic of Carlos. In hindsight, not at all, because that was his only option he had was to attack then. He had a teammate in the yellow jersey (Frank Schleck) and another who could do whatever he wanted (Andy Schleck), so that was his only option.
VN: Looking back at the race now, do you regret not trying to go with him?
CVV: Do I kick myself for not going with him, sure, but I am not the only one. Could I have gone with him? Yes, I could of.
VN: There was a lot of chatter that the Schleck brothers were riding against Sastre that day, but did you see anything to indicate that?
CVV: We all attacked each other and we were making it difficult on each other, but Frank and Andy, they weren’t doing anything. They were marking the attacks, marking the wheels and then sitting up, disrupting the rhythm. They were amazing teammates that day, especially when you consider the horsepower those two had that day. Andy could have won the stage that day, but he was holding back, he wasn’t going anywhere. The gap was growing and no one was going to help each other. No one wanted to work too much and then be left with their pants down when another big move came. Cadel was the one who took the initiative in the end by himself, but by then, it was too little, too late.
VN: What was the biggest lesson you learned last year in the Tour?
CVV: Just having more confidence in myself in a couple of key stages. Maybe I should have attacked at Hautacam or dared to go with Carlos. I learned not to have as much hesitation, to be more confident. Yet at the same time, you don’t want to go over your limits. To make it through a Tour like that, if you can not go over your limits, recover, have strength to be there in the key moments, that really pays dividends.
VN: The 2009 route is interesting in that it’s hard at both the first week and the final week, so there’s not one part of the race that you can aim to peak, how will you approach the Tour?
CVV: There’s not going to be any peaking this year. You have to be able to take some time out of people in some key stages. If you come in too late to form, you’ll be playing too much catch up. And if you come in too hot, you might get caught with your guard down later. It should be a great race to watch, with a lot of jersey changes, attacks. I think it’s going to be pretty exciting.
VN: Have you changed anything in your training to prepare especially for the 2009 Tour?
CVV: Not really. I’ve been working a little more on my climbing, but right now I’m training to get ready for the Giro and win the team time trial. It’s silly for me now to think about how I am going to race Mont Ventoux.
VN: How will the presence of a dominant team like Astana change the Tour?
CVV: I think it will definitely change the equation of the race a lot. With a team as strong as they look on paper, Astana will be at the front pulling a lot. That’s what Saxo Bank was doing last year to a certain extent, even more so with Astana this year. Having a team like that in the can and cannot work to your advantage.
VN: What are your expectations of Armstrong in the Tour?
CVV: The last time I saw him was about 10km before he crashed at Castilla y León and I haven’t spoken to him since. He’s looking very fit and I have no reason to doubt about what he’s doing. After winning the Tour seven times, you cannot count out Lance. Let’s get through the Giro first, then we’ll see what Lance can and wants to do at that point at time.
VN: You were his teammate, how surprised were you when you heard about his comeback?
CVV: I was very surprised, I didn’t expect that at all. But once you saw how excited he was and how happy he was racing and training again, how psyched he was to race CrossVegas, then it made sense. He just loves the camaraderie, loves pushing himself, loves racing.