For years, as the blue-collar sidekick to cycling stars like Lance Armstrong, Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre and Roberto Heras, Vande Velde remained virtually unknown outside the sport.
But now, Vande Velde, 32, enters the Giro as the undisputed leader of the Garmin-Slipstream squad. No more doubling back to the team car to fetch water bottles for those with bigger names. No more slicing through the wind to shield the champions behind him.
Armstrong, back after a retirement of more than three years, and Basso, returning from a two-year doping suspension, will be among the familiar faces at the starting line on Saturday. They may not recognize their former employee.
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