To those who know Christian Vande Velde, his current third-place standing in the 2008 Tour de France is no fluke. The 32-year-old Illinois native has served his time, learned from the best, and is prepared for such a moment.
The congenial Vande Velde, son of former professional track racer John Vande Velde and former Lance Armstrong teammate, doesn't bring cheekiness or bravado to the Tour, and his actions have spoken louder than words as the race enters its second week. Beyond all the fuss over leading America's new team in its debut Tour, Vande Velde, who doesn't have an excuse for everything like teammate David Millar, simply knows how to conserve energy, apply pressure, and be in the right place at the right time, a reflection of his Grand Tour experience (he's raced the Tour, Vuelta and Giro several times in his nine-year career) and maturity. It was fitting that team director Jonathan Vaughters chose Vande Velde to cross the line first when the team won the opening team trial of the Giro d'Italia May 10, giving the American the pink leader's jersey, a first for an American since Andy Hampsten in 1998.
Leah's husband and Uma's dad gives the double thumbs-up on the podium in Italy May 10
After leaving Armstrong's fold in 2003, Vande Velde landed with Bjarne Riis's Team CSC, where he gained invaluable experience alongside former Postal teammate Dave Zabriskie. Riis's cunning and tactian's approach to bike racing, like that of Postal/Discovery Channel director Johan Bruyneel, laid the groundwork for the astute Vande Velde, who at 5'11" and 150 pounds is a solid climber and reputable time trialist in his own right.
Sometimes it pays to work hard but stay below the radar; it also helps to have super DNA. Vande Velde's father raced in the 1968 and 1972 Summer Olympics on the track before hitting the Six Day circuit. His sister Marisa is a former track racer, and brother Ian is a top-notch golfer.
Vande Velde (C) has kept a watchful eye on Cadel Evans (R) since July 5
With all the controversy surrounding the Tour, it's refreshing to see someone like Vande Velde get his due. Yes, it was just a matter of time before Cadel Evans wore the leader's yellow jersey, but he lacks panache and can be quite the drama queen with journalists (from Stage 9: Evans came over the finish line flanked by his bodyguard and crying out, "Make sure nobody touches my left shoulder!" When asked for his reaction to the incident, Evans gave his helmet - split open at the front left hand corner from his crash - to a waiting reporter. "There's your interview," he said.).
I'm enjoying the Tour so far. Double victories by Italian climbing sensation Riccardo Riccò and young British sprinter Mark Cavendish during the first week certainly were highlights, enough to overshadow Manuel Beltran's doping bust on Friday. Pre-race GC favourites Damiano Cunego, Alejandro Valverde and Carlos Sastre all have strong, experienced teams, but it's Vande Velde who's making the Tour especially fun.
Vande Velde (C) finishes strongly with the GC favourites in Stage 10
Wouldn't it be nice to see his efforts rewarded with some time spent in yellow? I bet the Garmin-Chipotle boys would especially like to have that time include the podium in Paris July 27. Time for me to ride to Chipotle and enjoy another burrito this month...