Five Miles Up with … Christian Vande Velde

Bekah Wright
christian mug

Professional cyclist Christian Vande Velde’s tour schedule reads like the dream itinerary. In 2013, his Team Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda will compete as returning champions at the Giro di Italia and the U.S. Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. Also on the roster – the Tour de Utah and Tour de France. Last year Team Garmin toured the globe with races in Belgium, Malaysia, Australia, Oman, Qatar, Portugal… the list goes on. Down time for Vande Velde includes sharing his passion for cycling by leading clinics, as he did recently at San Diego's Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa. As someone whose eyes are always trained on the finish line, Vande Velde’s greatest traveling desire is simple – time to soak in the scenery.

Carry-on or check-in?
Check-in. I don’t have a choice because I travel with a bike, a Cervelo. If I had the option, I’d always carry-on.

What’s something you always pack in your carry-on?

These days I throw a sound dock into a backpack with my Mac, iPhone, and an iPad chock full of movies.

What’s on your travel playlist?
Hip-hop is always on there – JayZ and Kid Cudi. Every time I land in my hometown of Chicago I play the Blues Brothers, Buddy Guy, and Sweet Home Chicago.

Window or aisle?
Window, and I always go to the bathroom before getting on the plane.

What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
With my family somewhere completely relaxed, whether it be on a beach or a mountain, and not looking at my phone at what’s going on in the real world.

Have you been on a trip that’s come close?

We stayed at Le Meridian Bora Bora on our honeymoon. Everywhere you go, especially as Americans, it takes you three or four days to melt into your surroundings. Once that’s happened, there’s no better place.

Any travel regrets?
One of my biggest is Bora Bora. I wouldn’t have splurged so much on the hotel and, instead, extended the trip from six days to 10. When you take so much time to get to a great destination like that, you don’t want to turn around and go right back home.

What’s the worst travel experience you’ve had?
Milan in the summertime – AIitalia Airlines canceling our flights, having to get a hotel in Como at midnight, then be back to the airport at five in the morning. When Europe is in full gas, it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, there are 5 million people trying to take a vacation at the same time and every place that’s nice is locked up. Once you get to the beach, it’s the nicest place. Getting there, sometimes, is just horrible.

Where’s your favorite place to ride?

During the cycling clinic at Rancho Valencia, we had daily 80-mile rides to locations like 10,000-feet up Palomar Mountain. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and not much traffic except for a couple of farmers. If I’m out on a country road and the sun is shining, that’s my favorite place in the world. I’m also swayed by SpainGirona, where I live, and San Sebastián, because it reminds me of Chicago.

When you’re competing are you able to take in your surroundings?
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see as much as we’d like. Sometimes that’s better because when it’s 95 degrees and boiling hot we say, “Oh man, I don’t want to be here, I want to in that river swimming with all those people right now.” Then you go right back to determination, focus, suffering...

What’s one thing you’re willing to splurge on?
When traveling internationally with a race on the other side of the flight, a big seat on the plane so my back doesn’t get messed up.

What’s the most unusual souvenir you’ve ever come back with?
In Japan, I was given a huge, blown-glass tree. That’s a nice thing about having a bike bag – you can put tons of stuff inside. I gave it to my wife’s grandmother, who kept it on her nightstand until the day she died.

What’s a food you wish you hadn’t tried?
I’ve never tried a food I didn’t like.

Where do you take visitors to your hometown?
In Chicago, to Millenium Park, then Magnificent Mile for some shopping. We’d grab a beer at the bars in Wrigleyville or at The Publican. Then, catch a rooftop (Chicago Cubs) game at Wrigley Field, or a Blackhawks game at United Center.

You have one trip left in your lifetime. Where will it be?

I’ve traveled all over the world, but haven’t seen a lot of the United States and British Columbia. I’ve also never taken a cruise, so I’d cover all my bases and book one to Alaska.