In the space of one decade, American cyclist Christian Vande Velde has gone from support rider for Lance Armstrong to captain of his own squad, Team Garmin-Transitions, and a string of international victories. Now one of the top riders in the world, he competed at the Beijing Olympics, placed fourth at the 2008 Tour de France and was eighth last year — despite broken vertebrae from a bad crash months before.
The son of two-time Olympic cyclist John Vande Velde, Christian, 33, grew up in suburban Chicago. He biked on his dad's backyard wooden cycling track and was hooked. He married his high school sweetheart, Leah, and is the father of Uma, 2, and Madeline, 1. The family splits its time between Illinois and Girona, Spain.
We sat down with Vande Velde before he flew to Girona for training camp and the beginning of the 2010 cycling season.
Q How do you train through the Midwest winter?
A I don't usually ride if it's less than 18-20 degrees. It was 12 degrees this morning so I went to the gym — I weight train and work on core stability. I ride a lot in my basement; I have a big TV down there and I'll put old Tour (de France) videos on. It reminds me of how fit you need to be in June and July. Sometimes you get complacent in December and January. Then you watch a race and the winner finishes in 61/2 hours and you're nowhere near being able to ride at that pace for that long. It gets your mentality to where you should be.
Q Bike racing hurts. How do you deal with pain on the bike?
A You have to realize you're not the only one who's hurting that bad. If you're fit and confident in all of the work you've put in before the race has started, you have to look around and say, 'If I'm hurting this bad, then that guy's very close to hurting as much as I am, if not more.' It comes down to doing your homework — knowing the course or the climb and preparing yourself mentally for what lies ahead.
Q Did you really ride the Tour de France with broken vertebrae?
A Yeah, probably. They were in a place that's not weight-bearing, but I could still feel them moving around once in a while. I crashed on my back during the Tour and I crashed the week before, at the Tour de Suisse. I had a really bad stretch. They were still broken but not where it was going to disable me.
Q How many calories do you eat on the bike? How many do you burn?
A Right now I'm probably eating a little too much! In the season I burn around 3,000 calories a day on the bike; we eat 4,000 to 6,000 a day. We eat so many Clif Bars I could tell you every flavor they've ever made. We've also had sticky rice (balls) with bacon and egg, to get as much carbs, fat and protein in there.
Q What's your advice to new or lapsed exercisers for starting and sticking with an exercise program?
A Structure. Have a trainer who can get you into a routine. If you're paying for something and someone's waiting for you, you have to be there so you won't waste your money or your time or that person's time who you're hiring. I'm a big advocate of finding a good trainer and having that push out the door.
Q What's your favorite movie about cycling?
A If I didn't say "Breaking Away," my dad would disown me. (John Vande Velde played one of the Team Cinzano racers in the movie.)
Q Who would play you in the "Christian Vande Velde Story"?
A Hmm. Jake Gyllenhaal.
Breaking away with cyclist Christian Vande Velde
The son of two-time Olympic cyclist John Vande Velde, Christian, 33, grew up in suburban Chicago. He biked on his dad's backyard wooden cycling track and was hooked.
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