With 3 miles to go in the first mountain stage of the Tour, once again, it was a Garmin-Chipotle rider providing the fireworks. Christian Vandevelde rocketed out of the lead group and only Saunier Duval's Leonardo Piepoli could follow. With one mile remaining it looked like these two had made the winning move and with Piepoli's sprint being almost non-existent, it appeared that Vandevelde was on his way to notching his first stage victory at the Tour and the first for Garmin-Chipotle.
Unfortunately, there was still just enough fight in the chasing group and everything came back together just under the red kite signifying one kilometer to go. It seems a bit trite to say 'nothing ventured, nothing won' but that's exactly what happens everyday at the Tour. But, with Vandevelde moving up to fourth overall there is a silver lining to the cloud for the leader of the Garmin-Chipotle squad.
It might seem like decades ago, but Christian rode his first Tour in 1999 in support of Lance Armstrong's first yellow jersey. A pursuiter on the track by training, Christian's move to the road was the natural progression for a rider wanting to turn pro. He once told me that even though he rode the pursuit on the track, he logged 15,000 miles per year on the road in training.
Vandevelde comes from pretty good stock. His father was also a bike racer who is probably most famous as one of the Italians on Team Cinzano in the movie 'Breaking Away'. His sister Marissa was also a national caliber rider on the track.
Once he proved himself helping Lance on US Postal in 1999, he was picked to ride the Tour the following year. Unfortunately he crashed in the team time trial and did not see Paris. All set for 2001, a spider bite at the last minute left him off of Lance's Tour team. In 2002, everything looked like it was on track for yet another reutrn to the Tour, but when Christian went home to rest after riding the classics, he was replaced by one of the new Spaniards on the team.
Don't get mad, get even which is exactly what Vandevelde did when he was picked by US Postal to ride in support of Roberto Heras at the Vuelta a Espana at the end of the year. He rode superbly in the mountains and paced Heras up all the big hills. But, 2003 was another disappointing year with fewer chances to show his talent so when Heras left for Liberty Seguros in 2004, he brought Christian with him.
Vandevelde spent his last several years at CSC, rebuilding his career under the direction of Bjarne Riis. He won the Tour of Luxembourg and almost pulled off a Tour stage win into Gap in 2006. When Slipstream Sports signed him for 2008, it looked to be a great marriage of a talented American on a US team. With his time trialing and climbing skills, he was targeted as team leader for stage races, something that seemed like a natural progression as he matured as a rider.
Christian delivered the goods, notching the first win for the team in Europe with a victory in the time trial stage at the Circuit de la Sarthe. When the team bested everyone at the Giro d'Italia's first stage team time trial it seemed only fitting that Vandevelde should be first across the line and claim the maglia rosa, the pink leader's jersey. Just as in the Tour, he attacked in the mountains, but fell short. He redeemed himself with a fine top-5 finish in the final time trial into Milan.
Wearing number 191 at the Tour signifies that he is the team leader something that he appears to be taking very seriously. His top-10 performance in the first time trial is exactly where a team leader needs to be and rather than follow wheels, his attack today to Super Besse showed that he is here in France to put the Garmin-Chipotle jersey at the front of the race. Vandevelde has shown in the past that he can climb well in the big mountains, but he will need to be more consistent to contend for the Tour podium. Regardless of the result come Paris, we saw Christian's character today. Bravo!