Daniel McMahon / Yuzuru Sunada
This week, UCI ProTeam Lampre-Merida announced it had signed American Chris Horner to a one-year deal and that the 42-year-old stage racer would be its team leader at both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. peloton caught up with Horner to talk about getting on a team at the last minute, the open Giro, and the hot Vuelta.
peloton: Your former team, RadioShack-Nissan, did not renew your contract at the end of last season, even though you had won the Tour of Spain in September. Did you continue training through the off-season, even though you were without a team?
Chris Horner: I have been training since September and the legs are actually starting to come around right about now.
peloton: How happy are you with the way things worked out with Lampre?
Horner: With the money they’re offering me in January and with the bonus incentives, I’m very happy with the contract, and I’m happy that Lampre and Merida did find the extra dollars. The signing period was over basically and the season’s already started, so for them to find the money for me, well, I’m very grateful.
peloton: What’s the big benefit Lampre gets from signing you?
Horner: I can fill in gaps in stages races. I do the seven-day races and the Grand Tours, but I also come with a lot of experience and I don’t have a problem sharing it with the younger guys. I don’t make mistakes in the races. I’m in the right place at the right time. My tactics are usually pretty good. Plus, every team wants to have a guy in the top 10, top 5, or the win. If you’re a team, you always gotta have a top 10, and if you can get someone on the podium or get the win it’s even better. At Grand Tours I fill in on the climbs and in the GC area very well. Teams need guys in the top 10 to get exposure in the press, which is what I bring.
peloton: What did you make of the rash of media reports speculating on your possible next team?
Horner: I don’t get too involved in all that because I know if it’s a done deal or not. Clearly, no matter who your agent is, they’re talking with every team out there. If you’re not employed, your agent’s job is to talk to everybody. I don’t believe it’s a rider’s job or an agent’s job or a team’s job to ever discuss in the press who you’re talking with. It’s personal business and I find it unprofessional. You look at the websites and it’s like, “Chris is talking with teams A, B, and C.” Of course we are! [Laughs] We’re talking with teams A to Z. I know it makes news, but you have to remember that there’s no racing going on, so the websites are looking for anything to talk about to get readers’ interest and get them to go to their site.
peloton: You’re going to be leader at the Giro, but you haven’t raced it in a while.
Horner: True. Last time I did it I broke my leg. [Laughs] But the atmosphere of the Giro is very special. I’ll know more in the coming weeks after I talk more with the team, like whether I’ll focus more on the Giro or on races like País Vasco [Tour of the Basque Country], Catalunya, and Tirreno–Adriatico and decide whether I do those more for training to carry form into the Giro. There are a lot of UCI points in all those other races, though.
I’m going into the Giro as motivated as I can, but there are a lot of guys on the team, and at my age it’s not hard for me to figure out when I get to the race if somebody has better form than me or if my form’s the best. It doesn’t take me long to figure out the strength of the team either, and hopefully by the time Giro comes along my Italian will be good enough to bond with my teammates and the staff.
peloton: Can you win the Giro?
Horner: Yes. But the real question with the Grand Tours isn’t whether you can win it. I know you guys always want to know that, but the question with the Grand Tours is, Can you get through the first week safe? Only then you can start talking about whether you can win.
Look at the Vuelta last year with stage 2, a climbing stage. That changed the whole chemistry of the race. It destroyed 170 guys’ dreams of winning a Grand Tour. That’s a reality check right on the spot. When it’s flat the first week, everybody’s motivated and believes he can win or help his teammate win. An early climbing stage changes the race immensely, because everybody’s a little more tired and not as fresh, and their form is not the 100 percent they thought it was.
The Vuelta suited me because there was just one individual time trial and the heat, which I enjoy. I’d rather it be 100 degrees than 65 degrees. I’d race in 100 degrees every day if you asked me. Really hot stage races are what’s best for me.
peloton: You and your old Lotto teammate Cadel Evans will be team leaders at the Giro, and yet you’ve never raced against Evans as a leader. How do you see that going?
Horner: You know, you’re right, I haven’t, but I don’t think it’ll make me change up my style any.
peloton: But at Lotto you were always charged with getting Evans to the last climb, so you must know him better than most.
Horner: I know Cadel inside and out. During the two years we spent [on Lotto] we roomed together all the time, so we know each other well, and I know him well tactically. Cadel is simple in his tactics. He wants the race to be as hard as possible, and then he’ll try to blow it apart on the last climb. The difficult thing about Cadel is telling whether he’s suffering. He’s the only teammate I’ve ever had where I couldn’t tell if he was on a good day or a bad day. He looks the same regardless. Even as a teammate I’d literally have to ask him, “Good today?” Because he’d look like he was suffering, and he’d be like, “Yeah, I’m fine.” [Laughs]
I do think it is interesting that he’s focusing on the Giro, but I’m not sure if that was his choice or BMC’s. You’ve got a Tour de France champion on your team, so I thought that was a little odd. I didn’t see where it made sense to put so much pressure on a kid Tejay’s age and his experience to go and be the sole leader. But maybe that’s something Cadel asked for, I don’t know. I know he really likes the Giro, and I know he’ll be motivated. I’m sure it’ll be fun when we’re knocking heads. And it’ll be cool because we’re both up there in age.
peloton: Of course you’ll have Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte to deal with too.
Horner: Yep. It’ll be interesting to see what these young guys will do. And I think the clash from the press side is going to come from the old against the new, or the young against the old. You’re going to see Quintana and Richie Porte and me and Cadel. And I think Joaquim Rodriguez will be there.
peloton: How hard is it to have peak form for both the Giro and the Vuelta?
Horner: That’s not a problem. They’re far enough apart. The only issue is when you don’t get a rest in between. Look at Nibali last year. He was 100 percent at the Giro and at the Vuelta, regardless of what some people were saying. Maybe he was 98 or 99 percent, but you don’t win the Giro and go second at the Vuelta and then do the World Championships the way he did without good form.
peloton: Is defending your Vuelta title your main goal for the season?
Horner: Yes, absolutely. Of all the Grand Tours, it’s the best suited to me. Shorter, steeper climbs that are closer together. In the Tour the climbs are father apart and you get valleys and you have time to recover. In Spain one climb hits, then the next, then the next, then you’re finished. And there’s the heat. In the Tour it gets hot but it can get cold too. In the Vuelta you have multiple days of 100-degree weather. It’s designed for my type of riding. The Giro is close to what I’m good at, but the time trials are slightly longer and the weather slightly cooler.
peloton: Do you have a Super Bowl pick?
Horner: I like Manning. It would be an incredible end to an incredible season for him and the team, so I’m going with Denver.