Pro Cyclist/Chicago Native Christian Vande Velde, As Tough As It Gets.

Pro Cyclist/Chicago Native Christian Vande Velde, As Tough As It Gets.
A nail in the wheel of a Quick Step bikes proves foul play in stage 14

During Stage 14 of the 2012 Tour de France, a series of 30 flat tires in a short period of time was the alleged actions of a fan throwing something sharp on the course.  If you watch the Tour, then you know European cycling fans make European soccer fans look “calm.”  Last year I was able to sit down with Chicago native Christian Vande Velde to talk about the Tour, pro racing and yes, those nutty European fans.  The original article appeared in Chicago Athlete Magazine, in honor of the Tour, here’s my interview with veteran cyclist Christian Vande Velde.

To set the record straight, Jay Cutler is a football player, Christian Vande Velde is a gladiator.

If you need an example of how tough this Lemont native is, just Google the images of his Stage 2 finish at the Tour de France in 2010. Soaked in blood, with two cracked ribs, Vande Velde wiped half way through the stage, but continued on to the finish as if was just another day at the office.

Vande Velde says, “I didn't know I was bleeding from the face until I looked at my hand and there was blood all over it. Cycling is not soccer, it's not a lot of other sports, that's how it's always been, it's always been a blue collar sport. I've gotten on the bike with all sorts of broken bones, a broken arm, collar bone, you always try.”

Christian Vande Velde 1, Jay Cutler, still a wuss.

Standing next to the 5'11, 150 pound pro cyclist, the thought "tough guy," might not be the first thing that pops into your head, but all you need to do is listen to Vande Velde talk about what it takes to ride at this level to understand these guys are tough as it gets.  There is a never quit mentality to these guys that drive them beyond the normal limits of pain. “If you can ride your bike, you do it. Its what you're brought up doing, you never think about not finishing. As a cyclist, you get on the bike no matter what, as long as you can.”

Cycling is in Vande Veldes blood, literally. The son of United States Bicycling Hall of Fame inductee John Vande Velde, Christian became professional in 1998 for the now defunct U.S Postal team.

Being a professional means more than racing fast to Vande Velde, there is a code and a history that goes along with the job, it’s an old school mentality, passed down from the leather helmet days to the athletes of today.  “Being a pro runs the entire gamut, it's about nutrition, it's about how you sleep, it's about how you act, how you're a room mate, how you pack your suit case, how your bike is washed, it's the whole nine yards, not just going fast one day or the next day.   When I can't win or place,  it's about putting my team first, making sure that Tyler has a great ride to the finish, supporting any one of my team mates.  It's about speaking good to the press, about looking good when you go to the airport, honoring my sponsor commitments, it's about being a professional.”

You're not going to find this father of two spending the off season strolling Rodeo Drive with his reality star girl friend ducking the paparazzi (like a certain weak kneed QB).  Even his training regimen is “tough,”

Unlike most pro cyclists Vande Velde doesn't spend his Winter months training in warmer climates, he's back home, in Chicago, grinding it out in the bitter cold, snow and ice.  “ I stay here in Chicago and train in the cold weather, there’s nothing like doing four hours in 22 degree weather and having a good time.  Christmas eve it was snowing hard and I was out there with a smile on my face, I was thinking I am a bad ass.  The worst part is the roads are so bad, but I bundle up, ride my cross bike, which makes it a smooth ride.  As long as it's above 20, I am outside and having a great time.”

We are all familiar with the physical punishment a cyclist goes through in the Tour, but Vande Velde shares that the physical pounding can be secondary to the mental beating, “It's like a swarm of bees flying through the streets of France, with traffic islands, cops, motorcycles going through the middle of the peloton, it's insane.  Your central nervous system is completely drained at the end of the day, because you are completely on edge all day, day after day. A lot of times it's not physical fatigue, but mental fatigue from being “on” all day, from constantly being on the look out. There are so many hazards out there.  Then there’s going down descents in the alps that you have never been down before, amongst 200 guys all trying to get to the front, is a whole different can of worms, it's awesome!."

Vande Veldes’ best finish in The Tour was fourth in 2008, 3'05" behind the winner Carlos Sastre.

Cycling is unlike any other sport, where the fans literally jump out and pat you on the back while you are in the heat of competition. Despite the Tour being a bit of a circus, Vande Velde, takes it all in stride, and chalks it up to being a part of the experience. “They (the European fans) get so excited, there's massive anticipation.  They close the mountain down for hours before you get there, some of them camp out for a few days, it looks like a refugee camp with all the tents, they have been partying for a long time.  It's a crescendo of excitement, you see the leaders and the anticipation builds, and by the time you hit them, they lose their minds!  That's exactly what happens, people don't know how to take it, they are so excited, they get caught up in the moment!   There's always somebody that goes way over the line and the guys that run next to you are there solely to get on TV.  I don't mind the guy who gets so excited, but the people who get malicious or put you and them selves in danger, of course it's not cool.  Over all it's an amazing energy.”

With age comes more responsibility and Vande Velde admits, his toughest challenge has nothing to do with the bike.  The 35 year old husband and father admits that the hardest part of being a pro cyclist is the balancing act between his job and his family. “it's easily the hardest part of my job. With the travel and be good to the kids when you are home, but at the same time try to ride your bike as much as you can, rest and have family time and be present when you are home.  That is the biggest hurdle I have as a cyclist is to be the best father and husband that I can.”

While you’re watching the Tour, here are a few additional things you need to know about Vande Velde.

He doesn’t use chamois cream.  “You learn to endure it.  If I am riding properly on my bike and the fabric agrees with me, it's all good.”

He doesn’t have a Facebook account, though knows that former Atlanta Braves pitches Tom Glavine is his doppelganger.  “When I am wearing a hat, people have actually asked me for an autograph, thinking I was him.”

Vandel Velde considers hockey players to be the toughest professional athletes, with cyclists close second, “Hockey is the standard, they are always beat up, I have a lot of respect for hockey players.  I think we are on the same kind of level, the agility, the exertion and what it means to be a professional.”

Though he has a lot of racing left in him, Christian would consider being on Dancing With The Stars when it’s all said and done.  “My wife would love for me to be on Dancing With The Stars. I don't know, that's hard because those guys work their butts off and still look bad and all you can do is lose most of the time. I think it would be good for me personally because I can't dance at all, but it would take a lot of backbone to go and do that, for sure.”

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