COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — In recent years, when Christian Vande Velde has avoided his many carer race crashes, his skills as a stage racer excelled deep into events.
In grand tours, for example, the three-week events like the Tour de France, Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain, Vande Velde has usually ridden at his strongest in the final week.
But Monday, the 35-year-old veteran rider for Gamin-Cervelo surprisingly found himself in second place after the prologue of the inaugural USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
As Vande Velde explained, teams often separate their best riders in prologues so if weather conditions change, an entire squad doesn't have bad luck.
"I’ve never started first in my career,” he said. "It was weird warming up early like that. I guess it was a bit of gamble. You always want to compare yourself to the best riders. Many times in races I’ve been in, we’ve put GC riders at the beginning and end of an opening time trial.
"It’s a way to offset your odds, if the rain comes or wind changes around. Obviously HTC was thinking the same thing as we were."
As the 11th starter in the field of 130, Vande Velde, completed the circuit in 8 minutes and 29 seconds, less than two seconds slower than prologue winner Patrick Gretsch (HTC-Highroad) of Germany.
Although only 20 seconds separated the top 2e finishers, Vande Velde's runner-up finish places him in contention earlier than he expected for the overall title.
A superior climber, Vande Valde, a two-time top-10 overall finisher at the Tour de France, is expected to be among favorites in the hilly stage 2. It will include two climbs of more than 12,000 feet.
If he fared well, Vande Velde, the 2008 Tour of Missouri winner, excepted he'd fare well again in the stage 3 uphill time trial in Vail.
"I’m really happy with how this went," Vande Velde said. "I didn’t expect this. I’d more hoped to be on the podium for the Vail time trial than today. I put some seconds into some people, which is good."
"The key was practicing the course as much as possible, particularly that fast left-hand turn. My goal was to not end my season there, especially because the handling on the time trial bike is much different than the road bike.”
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