Breaks, bumps and bruises worry Vande Velde as Tour de France begins
Christian Vande Velde has what would seem to be a reasonable goal for the Tour de France. But the events of the past two years have made it look like a fantasy for the cyclist from Lemont, Ill.
"My contract (with the Garmin-Transitions team) has two more years after this one,'' Vande Velde said. "I definitely want to come back to the Tour when I'm injury-free.''
Vande Velde was speaking Wednesday via telephone from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, where the 97th Tour de France begins its 2,262-mile, 23-day circuit of the Netherlands, Belgium and France on Saturday. He comes into the race eight weeks after breaking his collarbone in a May 10 crash at the Tour of Italy and three weeks after cracking ribs in a June 13 crash at the Tour of Switzerland.
That is nearly an exact repeat of his misfortunes in 2009, when Vande Velde's crash in the same stage of the Tour of Italy did more damage, but the ensuing crash in Switzerland was minor.
"My overall form is pretty similar to what it was last year, but I didn't have as many nagging pains as I do now,'' he said. "I am fit, and I am ready. But a lot of other things are taking up some of my peace of mind.''
In both seasons, he had to withdraw from the three-week-long Tour of Italy but finished the nine-day Tour of Switzerland. Vande Velde went on to finish eighth at last year's Tour de France after having been fourth in 2008, likely missing the podium because of time lost to (what else?) a crash in the final week.
"I'm a little bit worried,'' he said. "I had to take some days off the bike when I got back from Switzerland to give myself a chance to heal. The weeks between that and the Tour de France are when I usually like to sharpen up and do more high-intensity work.
"If anything is good from this, it is that I am more rested physically. Hopefully, that will pay dividends in the last week. If I can get through the first week unscathed, I think I will be OK.
"I think there are going to be a lot of time differences in the first week and, if not, there still will be a lot of carnage and stress.''
The hardest part of the first week on Vande Velde's bruised body likely will be the bone-rattling traverse across eight miles of cobblestone roads during Stage 3, when the Tour follows part of the route of the annual Paris-Roubaix race, an event known as "The Hell of the North.''
The Tour moves into the Alps during the second week and hits the Pyrenees in the third week. The highlight of the Pyrenees will be an ascent of the Col du Tourmalet from different directions on successive stages. In either direction, the climb is ranked "beyond classification'' -- or maximum difficulty.
"I have never done a Tour de France with this much climbing,'' Vande Velde said. "And it's where the mountains are placed. When the Tourmalet comes early, like it did last year (Stage 9), not much happened. This year, fireworks are going to go off.''
Vande Velde has started seven Tours de France and finished six. He rode the first five as a domestique, or worker bee, twice for Lance Armstrong. The last two, he has been a leader of the Garmin team, as he will be again this year.
There is no comparison between what was expected of him during his first Tour in 1999 and what he expects of himself beginning Saturday, or in the general intensity of racing, which Vande Velde says has been a factor in his crashes and the increased number of crashes in general.
"The stakes have gone up, the performance level has gone through the roof, the tension during races has skyrocketed,'' he said. "In 1999, if I decided to go to the back, it was no big deal. Now my goal is to stay at the front, stay out of trouble and race as hard as I can day after day. If I lose a second here or there, I'll be up all night ticked off.''
-- Philip Hersh
(Photo: Christian Vande Velde (foreground) gets back on his bike after an 11th stage crash in the 2009 Tour de France. Bas Czerwinski / Associated Press)