6:02 PM CDT, July 24, 2011
The picture shows how the Tour de France ended Sunday for Christian Vande Velde:
With a big smile (he's the third man from the left) and arms around the Garmin-Cervelo riders with whom Vande Velde stood on the podium as winners of the team classification title.
The team's highest-placed finisher, Tom Danielson, was also the top U.S. rider, in 9th place. Vande Velde, 17th, was the second-best U.S. rider.
"It means a lot especially since I was part of building this little team, from Slipstream to Garmin to Garmin-Cervelo,'' Vande Velde said. "In 2008, we were begging for a spot in the Tour de France. Now we won the team classification. That overshadows individual awards and things.''
Vane Velde, 35, is in his fourth year with the team, with one more to go on his contract. In those four seasons, he has finished 4th, 8th and 17th in the Tour de France. He withdrew last year after a bad crash in the third stage.
"This was horriblly hard, the hardest Tour de France I've ever done,'' said Vande Velde, who has finished seven. "It wasn't because of the speed we were going or the wattage. It was because of the intensity and the nervousness of being on small roads, in the rain for about nine days, and the descents.
"We had one descent the final week that was terrifying. Take Lombard Street (the San Francisco street with eight hairpin turns called one of the crookedest in America) and make it 20 percent steeper, have it go 10 miles, and that's what it was.
"That kind of stuff beats you up mentally. You have to be `on' for five hours at a time. You cannot let up, or you find yourself on the ground.''
Vande Velde hit the deck five times in this Tour, but none of the crashes was serious. A bruised knee was the biggest damage.
"I've got bruises all over the place. I look like a crack addict,'' he joked.
He flies home Monday to Lemont and then will finish his season in the Tour of Utah Aug. 9-14 and the USA Pro Cycling Challenge Aug. 22-28 in Colorado.
Vande Velde has one more year on his Garmin-Cervelo contract. He would like to finish his pro cycling career at next year's London Olympics.
He now has been part of a team with the Tour winner (Lance Armstrong and U.S. Postal in 1999) and a team that has taken the team title. As a career snapshot, that's a good one for any scrapbook.
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