Christian Vande Velde Interview
Dave Osborne: Roadcycling.com wants to congratulate you on your 2008 season.
Christian Vande Velde: Thank you very much.
DO: What are your feelings about your 2008 season?
CVV: A bit of all sorts of feelings, but a lot of it was a surprise. Mostly surprise that I could do what I could do and almost an awakening of all that I can do and what I can do in the future.
DO: So your success in 2008 is like a stepping stone for you by working as a confidence booster for you and allowing you to realize what potential you have? Maybe you’ve unlocked something you didn’t even know was there.
CVV: 08 has just really opened up my eyes from the get-go in California all the way through the Tour of Missouri. I put myself in the category where I was thinking - This is what I can do and maybe I can do a little bit more on a given day, but this is me as a rider and I’m not going to move from here for the rest of my career. I’m going to have a nice career, but not a great career. I kind of put myself short and 08 opened my eyes to the fact I could do more than I previously believed.
DO: Congratulations on winning the Tour of Missouri. Can you give us a summary of the race? How it developed and what it was like to do well in the US after a great tour in Europe.
CVV: It was great to be in Missouri and we started really close to the hometown of [team sponsor] Garmin where they have their base and their factory. We did a tour there. For the race, I wanted to do a good race, but for the most part I was tired mentally from a long season. And at that point in time I just wanted to take a subservient role to one of my teammates and do what I could to get them in the driver’s seat to win the race. Do what I used to do all the time and be a really good domestique. That was my intention going into the race, but then I rode great on the time trial course and I really liked it. I just gave it everything I had and from there on it would be just stupid to let it slip through my fingers. [Team] Columbia did everything they could to take it back to their hands. They gave us an awesome fight. Our team was amazing this year and matured tenfold just during that race alone.
DO: It was a great battle and again congratulations from us here at Roadcycling.com. What specifically surprised you about the 2008 Tour de France? In general and why or how did it surprise you? When did the light bulb come on?
CVV: Hautacam really surprised me on that. I knew I was riding well and climbing well. I wasn’t really too fatigued after a lot of the stages. The guys that I expected to be going fast weren’t really going as fast as I really expected and my perceived exertion by the time I got to the finish wasn’t half of what I thought it would be. And that really changed my outlook of the race. It was a whole process throughout the year starting with the Tour of California throughout the Giro, the Tour de France, and Missouri. Sitting here today, giving this interview, I’m a different person than I was a year ago.
DO: Are you preparing for the 2009 Tour of California now?
CVV: Yeah, I am doing my best right now. It was a pretty rough winter in Chicago, but I feel really good right now and I’m working hard. We are doing a great training camp. At the same time my wife is very close to giving birth so I might have to skedaddle out of here sooner than later back to Chicago. It will probably compromise my Tour of California, but for a good reason, that’s for sure.
DO: I think priorities…
CVV: That’s definitely a priority.
DO: You bet. Family is a priority. Can you describe what is your off-season and to what extent you’re on the bike during that period? What are you up to in the off-season?
CVV: Well October is definitely my off-season. I get up to Wisconsin. I’m from the Midwest so I love to be on the water. Things like that. Just get away from everything cycling. I try to do everything that I can’t do during the season; whether it be just hanging out with the family or going for a walk or going for a hike. Things I would never do during the season. Having big dinners and maybe drinking a little bit too much wine. Just having a good time and mostly getting out to see friends and family in the Chicago area. That’s the reason why we have a place back there.
DO: Looking back at the career you’ve had, is there any specific moment that stands out above others?
CVV: Yeah I’ve had a pretty diverse career, that’s for sure. I’ve spent a lot of time being a team pursuiter. A lot of people forget about that. I had a lot of great times and I was part of the Project 96 in the USA, won the world cup overall in ’97, and had some great moments to be a track rider. And I still reminisce. I still like to follow track racing. I really think about a lot of those guys. But then after that I turned pro and ’99 was a really special year for a lot of us on the US Postal team. We had a really cool core group of guys. We had a great year that year. I remember a lot of that year. The last two years in CSC were a blast also. Of course this last tour I’ll never forget.
DO: You’ve mentioned three different teams you’ve been on. What are your experiences as far as strengths and weaknesses within a team? What have you seen as pluses and minuses among the different teams you’ve been on?
CVV: There will be pluses and minuses in every team, but I really just take all the positives of all the teams that I’ve been on. I tried to infiltrate them into Team Garmin. I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job at that. One of the bonuses is a lot of people who have been on Garmin – Matt White, myself, David Miller, Jonathan - we’ve been on similar teams. That helps and we put all the positives into one basket. And we try the best of it. We’re really doing a good job of that here at Garmin whether it be technology...everything that we could have control of we try to get control of. And apart from that, from the get-go we try to put guys on the team that share the same ideology and just get together quite well.
DO: In all your training and racing, is there something in the back of your mind about July of 2009?
CVV: Oh yeah, that definitely gets you out there but first things first. I’m really thinking of California and it’s less than a month away. So California, Giro, Tour - but of course the big picture is that the Tour is always number one. When you panic or you’re too behind you have to tell yourself to relax. It’s seven months away. In all relativity, you have to think you want to put the guys in the Tour of California for nine days. That’s going to be a very hard race. So first and foremost I want to get myself prepared to have a good race here. And take it from there.
DO: Have you analyzed the 2009 Tour de France and said this looks like my stage?
CVV: I really haven’t done that in all honesty. I know the gist of the tour and how it goes. And what the first week is going be like. I think a lot of times that’s what it is. After the first two weeks everyone knows where they are and what they can and can’t do at that point. And then after that it’s Mont Ventoux time. That is going to be the pinnacle of the ’09 Tour. So, no I haven’t pinpointed a stage or two if that’s what you are asking.
DO: What involvement do the riders have in planning the strategy of the stages?
CVV: At the end of the day it’s the rider’s decision whether or not they’re going to follow the decision of the director. Yeah, you sit in the bus and there’s a pie in the sky. This is what’s going to happen today, this is what we want to do. Sometimes it really comes out exactly what you intended to do and those are great feelings even if it doesn’t work out. Let’s say I want to get two of you guys up in the break and then try for a victory. If we don’t win, at least we did everything we thought we could and it went according to plan. Nine times out of ten someone will throw a span in the works, there might be a big crash or the rain starts, god knows what happens. That’s what makes cycling really cool. You never know exactly what’s going to happen. At the end of the day the rider makes the ultimate decision whether they follow through with the plan.
DO: What does it take to maintain your focus for hours of racing? What goes on?
CVV: It’s like the Tour de France is a great book. You have 21 chapters and every chapter is a little bit different. Some chapters are so intense that you are just on point from start to finish at all times, not doing anything else, just eating and drinking, riding at the front and not crashing. It might be insane for 20 minutes and the break goes away, you get to chat with your buddies and the group starts chasing from behind. It gets harder and harder and there’s a sprint at the end. How I keep my composure, the days I really need to be on point I am, other days I try to put my mind in neutral and try to relax as much as I possibly can. Everyone’s a bit different but that’s how I gotta get though things.
DO: What advice can you give to riders and racers about biking?
CVV: I appreciate getting out on new, more demanding roads more and more. I never had hills by me or even mountains living by Chicago. So I never take riding in the hills or mountains for granted. Once I started doing that, cycling took on a whole new meaning to me. Whether you’re a sprinter, climber, big or small everyone will always enjoy riding in the mountains just because it’s a beautiful place. It’s a different thing when you feel like you’ve accomplished more when you’re getting up and down mountains. You get the descents and relief going down. Seeing the world is part of riding the bike. It’s the best form of transportation in the world.
DO: I appreciate your time and thank you on behalf of Roadcycling.com.