Update July 26, 2008: Vande Velde finishes in 4th in final time trial
I love it when the unsung, work-a-day athlete suddenly scores it big in any sport. That happened May 10 when Christian Vande Velde earned the maglia rosa at the 2008 Giro d'Italia.
And it has been happening at the 2008 Tour de France, where Vande Velde has exploded out of the peloton and into the realm of the favorites, sitting in 3rd place overall after the 10th Stage.
Ever since I started this bicycling blog in 2005, the name Christian Vande Velde has come up repeatedly among US cyclists competing in elite competitions in Europe and the US.
But he never made the headlines. Ever since turning pro in 1998, the native of Lemont, Illinois, has been the guy delivering water bottles to Lance Armstrong, or helping pace Carlos Sastre or Frank Schleck over mountain passes.
In May, at age 31 (he's since had a birthday and is 32), he ends up leading the surviving five cyclists in the Slipstream-Chipotle pack in the team time trial at the Giro d'Italia and wins. What's more, it's the first stage, so he earns the maglia rosa, the pink jersey. Further, he becomes the only US cyclist since Andy Hampsten in 1988 to do so.
Now, after 10 stages of the Tour de France, he's riding in the GC contender group with the big names Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre, and Denis Menchov.
The former CSC cyclist got there by finishing just 7 seconds behind the winner of Stage 1 (Alejandro Valvedre, now 4-1/2 minutes behind), and marking the leaders every day after that.
But it was his 8th place finish in the individual time trial on Tuesday last week (37 seconds behind the winner) that catapulted him into 6th place overall, 37 seconds behind race leader Stefan Schumacher.
On Thursday it looked like Vande Velde might take a stage win, as he attacked on the final climb. He ran out of gas, but found himself climbing into 4th place overall.
Then Sunday, he gained another place to 3rd overall.
How far can he go? Shouldn't the cycling press (and hacks like me) be a little surprised that a guy in 3rd place after 10 stages shows no signs of stopping? In fact, he looks stronger and more confident day after day.
I first starting thinking about Christian Vande Velde lately after writing a story earlier in May about the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame looking for a new home. In browsing the site, I discovered that one of the Hall of Famers was John Vande Velde, Christian's father.
Here's why John, born in Chicago in 1949, was honored:
A swimmer turned cyclist, John Vande Velde was a member of the 1968 (Mexico City) and 1972 (Munich) Olympic teams. A three time National Champion in the Individual Pursuit, John also rode on the Pan American team, winning a bronze medal. After the 1972 Olympics, John turned professional and entered the lucrative pro six-day race circuit. In 1994, he built the Vandedrome, a portable track used for the 1998 Goodwill Games in New York City. John served as Vice President of USA Cycling, Vice President of the United States Cycling Federation, and as a member of the UCI track commission.
According to a bio at Wikipedia, Vande Velde rode for US Postal from 1998 through 2003. During that time he twice raced in the Tour de France and helped Armstrong win the championship.
He moved to Liberty Seguros in 2004, then to Team CSC through 2007. Most of this time his title was domestique.
Then in 2007 he finished 6th in the Tour of California and 2nd in the Tour de Georgia. This year he finished 3rd overall in the Tour of California and 2nd overall in the Circuit de la Sarthe.
In the off-season, Slipstream directeur sportif Jonathan Vaughters, who would have been a US Postal teammate in 1999, must have remembered something special about Vande Velde because he invited him onto the US-based squad. That team gained a new sponsor and became Garmin-Chipotle at the beginning of the tour. I'm sure they couldn't be happier.
In May, the one-time domestique found himself in the pink jersey and the team was riding for him. Tradition demands that the team protect the leader's jersey. Maybe Garmin-Chipotle will be riding to protect the yellow at some point.
After the race in May, Vande Velde told the media that this pink jersey is a good payback for all those years in the trenches. CyclingNews:
“This [being in the pink jersey] is the picture that will be on our wall or the things that I will say to my grandchildren. I mean, my career is not over, I don't want to say that this is it, but at the same time it is an amazing achievement and definitely the highlight of my career so far.”
It's great that this is the highlight of his career. At 31, he has time for many more highlights that I think he richly deserves.
Also check out:
“How does Christian Vande Velde train for the mountains?” (July 19, 2008)
“Evans takes yellow; Vande Velde hangs onto 3rd” (July 14, 2008)
“Christian Vande Velde, more a star than a water carrier” (June 3, 2008)
Originally posted May 11, 2008; updated and reposted July 14, 2008