For many years, Christian Vandevelde was a "domestique" for Lance Armstrong and Team Discovery. Domestique literally means "servant" and, like all domestiques, Vandevelde's role was to do everything possible to Help Armstrong, his team leader, win.
(To those unfamiliar with bike racing, although individuals win races, the role of the team cannot be underestimated. As great as Lance Armstrong was, he would not have won 7 Tours de France without a very superior team (and a general manager who was the best tactician in the business)).
This year Vandevelde is the team leader of Team Garmin, a new U.S. based team (The Discovery Channel ended its association with bike racing this year).
Finally let loose, Vandevelde has had a spectacular tour. He is currently in sixth place, about four minutes behind the leader, Carlos Sastre of Team CSC (the best team in the tour this year, by far). Indeed, if not for one four mile stretch, Vandevelde might be competing for the final Yellow Jersey on Saturday.
Tuesday's 95 mile stage 16 included two sick climbs and ended with a 25 mile descent immediately following the second climb. Vandevelde had been able to stick with the group of elite riders all through the first three mountain stages and the first big climb of the fourth. However, on the bottom of this last climb, he broke and was dropped from the pack of lead riders. After four miles of struggling, he called on whatever willpower and reserves he had and started climbing strongly again. He reached the summit only 35 seconds behind the leaders.
Vandevelde is considered a great descender (there is a great deal of skill and fearlessness needed to descend mountains at 50 to 60 miles an hour) and, in a desperate effort to catch the leaders, he let loose. Unfortunately, he crashed and it ended up costing him another two minutes. His chances for the yellow jersey were over.
Vandevelde is a great time trial rider and will certainly leave it all on the road during Saturday's 32 mile time. Nevertheless, it will be virtually impossible for him to make up enough time. I suspect he will be very happy to settle for third place overall.
The point: The Tour de France, the greatest sporting event in the world, leaves no margin for even the slightest letdown. Vandevelde rode great for 2,000 miles but, in the end, the four miles that he didn't did him in.