Chris Horner – Do we believe in miracles?

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Unless you somehow missed it, anyone remotely into cycling will have noticed the media storm surrounding Chris Horner’s win at the Vuelta Espana in September 2013. Now, nearly 6 months on, many of us are still at a loss as to how a 42 year old defied accepted wisdom and came through to win a Grand Tour.

It’s the age that has most people filled with doubt that they’ve seen a genuine clean win. The theory is that someone of Horner’s age is of the old generation and desperate for one last bit of glory (think of Di Luca in last year’s Giro) he takes a hit and hopes for the best. Having had the Armstrong case settled by Armstrong’s admission (and the admissions of nearly all the high-level American cyclists from that period) and Hesjedal‘s admission that he had doped earlier in his career, North American cycling had been very much tainted in 2012 and 2013.

Chris Horner

Chris Horner during the FDJ days

Signing his first full contract at Francaise de Jeux at the relatively old age of 26 he spent 3 seasons struggling in what would’ve been a peloton full of EPO. Struggling in that climate points to Horner racing clean. Eventually Horner went back to America and raced successfully there.

Coming back to Europe with the Saunier Duval team in 2005 (who would later take a punt on a returning David Millar) before moving to the Lotto team for two years and then onto Astana.

It wasn’t until 2010 where he started showing good results in the Overall classification in European races, with him now at Team Radioshack. He won the Overall at the Tour of the Basque Country over Valverde and finished in the top ten in a number of the Spring Classics, the Tour of California and the Tour de France.
2011 saw him winning the Tour of California but crashing out of the Tour de France.

Chris Horner

Horner wins the Vuelta

More top tens followed in 2012 and when injury struck at the start of 2013 it seemed that it was over. Announcing his return to the peloton by coming 2nd in the Tour of Utah, 3 weeks later he took on the Vuelta…and we know what happened there. Winning two summit finishes and becoming the oldest ever Grand Tour winner.

Horner’s career reads of one of being ‘the nearly man’ for many years, clearly full of talent but either riding clean in a dirty peleton or being injured at key times. Arguably the cleaner peloton has given him the chance to shine in his later years. Where the issues for us as cycling fans lies is do we believe this result will stand the test of time?

Chris Horner

Chris Horner wins for Saunier Duval

I’m willing to accept that Horner was much less fatigued than all his rivals, he was the only one who hadn’t done another Grand Tour that year and therefore the only one for who the Vuelta was a primary focus. You had to go down to 9th place to find the next rider who hadn’t ridden in any Grand Tours and that was the also surprising result of Leopold Koenig who annouced himself to the cycling world.

It seems a particularly difficult parcours at the Vuelta, without lots of TT miles and several hilly or mountainous finishes, his rivals previous efforts and a particularly brutal Spring gave Horner the extra 5% or so that he needed to get past Vicenczo Nibali in the overall standings, simply because he was fresher.

I’m willing to give Horner the benefit of the doubt but plenty aren’t, with talk of him being the redacted Rider 15 mentioned in Levi Leipheimer’s confession within the USADA Report into Lance Armstrong and with the difficulty in which he found a new team over the Winter, before eventually signing for Lampre-Merida.

But finally the last thing I’ll say to the people who don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the sceptics. I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.
– quoted from the 1993 World Champion

Sometimes the fans just don’t want to get hurt following the wrong guy.

Chris Horner

Chris Horner

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2 thoughts on “Chris Horner – Do we believe in miracles?

  1. Aaron Wilson

    I would rather see more go into the possible, rather than the “Miracle” narrative. His team strength was pretty high, although he had no late support on the many uphill finishes. If Zubeldia was going well, Chris would have had to support him. That opened the door for him. A miracle that his had no mechanicals, especially in the finals uphills. World’s took a lot of the top tear away from this Vuelta. The opening TTT defined the race. Horner was under the radar, expected to crack, even his team did not remit to full support until Stage 10 where Nibali hesitated or waited at 3 km to go. Horner was able to go from + 20 seconds. Race Radio is not always reliable. A late reaction from Nibali, which he later admitted was his only real mistake, prove to be about the winning GC difference. Tails winds, and/or dead air were dismissed, but for Horner, who can climb out of the saddle bar none, excepted for Contador (not there), they raise him to a top-tear climber as where head demote his ability to sustain a prolonged attack otherwise. None of his rivals, except for Rodriguez climb, little or at all out of the saddle. Anyone who can top 20 and 10 in the Tour de France on time gains in mountains, and while assisting the team leader(s) with other team duties, could do well with good possibility of podium, including the overall GC. The Angliru (dead air) climb was made for Horner’s abilities. The last three mountain stages seemed to dictate the race tactics of all the major contenders, again with Worlds looming, everyone seemed to be holding back, and seemed to only set up for attacks on the final uphill finishes except for Horner, who took advantage by following the Valverde-Rodriguez trains rather well, and waited for a few choice moments to counter attack. Radioshack had three Big men to keep out of the wind, plus Robert Kiserlovski, who added some key, but limited, pace making on the final climbs, but never buried himself and seemed to save himself for next day. Tactically is it worked. He played a key role it setting up Horner’s attack on the final ascent on the Andora stage ( he dressed well for the day as well) on the Andora stage Nibali might have missed opportunity to take time in the final kilometer. Horner looked down a couple of times when Nibali went to the front, Horner looks to have bluffed his way out of it by swinging wide on the final switchbacks as if to access Nibali for a possible attack. Nibali’s surge for the line showed a weak response from Horner. Hard to say, both have good pain faces. Also the following stage finishing on the Col de Peyresourde, with Port de Bales between was weather effected. In fact with only about 1.5 hours on T.V. coverage, we simply did not see the much of it. When coverage came on. they front runners where about closing in on the top of Port de Bales, The Eurosport commentators did not make mention that Cancelarra was still there lingering just of the back of the front group with water bottles sticking out of his pockets. This supports the evidence that the tactics were all centered around the the summit finishes. Cancelarra also with a single had, neutralize a cross wind attack by team Saxo-Tinkov by moving Horner on wheel in front of their echelon. Cancelarra quit the race only adding adding a extra day to the race. Again Worlds and Rainbows seemed to be taking the precedant. Nabali seemed to relinquish the leaders jersey on stage 19 possibly to put pressure on Horner’s Radioshack team to expend themselves heading into the Angliru. Odd the the Orange Basque men appeared to be working at the front in setting the pace before the final Angliru. Rumors of the Fararri team with Horner abounded for seemed to be expected at the time. Matt Busche had be credited with bringing back Horner in the kilometers way back in the open time-trail, know reappeared to give Horner a bottle in the frantic the opening volleys of the Angliru. In fact he bridge across a gap to do so. The Katusha lead attack with Movistar did not permit him to hand the bottle to Horner. Instead he opted to actually place it in Horner front cage, before falling off the pace. Horner managed the early attacks, before Nibali launched a major solo one. He gained about 13 second, which on that climb could equate to 30 or 40 seconds on the flat. Horner only repsonded with a steady tempo to real him back with Rodriguez in tow. A lull ensue at the catch with Valverde also being able to rejoin. Horner through in s spoiling attack and tempted Nabli to counter. At times it appered that Nibali might succeed in snapping the sting Horner. Again Horner held back on any immediate jumps onto the Italian’s wheel, and rather retook him with a measured effort, which only encourage Nibali to attack again and again. As two neared the final ultral steep grades, the T.V. moto got stalled in the frantic and narrowed passage of fans. By the time the T.V. moto regained them (also revealing Valverde getting a major and illegal push by fans), Horner was at the front in what appear to a upill track paring. Horner seemed to slow him, standing, and then just tick up the pace to slowly measrue attack on the last extreme steep grade. He slipped passed a couple of riders from the break, agian taking what outside relif the turn could offer, Nibali had no answer. Horner later rated that he thought the reg flag was the end on the climbing only to find that there still ramained of short section of final climbing. Stills of this section show Horners’ pain face gone. His wide bars and tapped wrists show his unigue, out-of -saddle style telling of his detailed effort to squeaze every once of enegy to the uphill assult. Nibali’s earlier attacks had been a mistake, had he just marked on the climb Horner, who knows?

    Horner has always shown the right stuff when it comes to mentality of a champion. He had just never been given a lead role, except for in the Basque Country and TA where he was either the the second to Kloden or the climber added to roster at on a team built Mian-San Remo prep (again he was left on his own to perform and show on the climbs, in later; his weakness was the final ITT, and despite earlier in 2013, having crested that absurdly steep climb at TA with Nibali which also lead to injury, only to loss contact on the wet descent. His 2011 Tour de France crash and loss severed head and leg injuries, would have cause most riders to abandon, saw him remount and finish the stage. The blow to the head could not stop his babbling in extra large T-shirt that only added insult to the injury. “Did I finish, did I finish” over and over and over, mocked by many, sparks prasise from me, and probably many more, more so than regulars, among the scoffers (shows how ill-mannered, and callous in some of keyboard-rap insults from the forum of one well known racing website), and the changing of the quote to “Did I win, Did I win” is insanely poor journalism.

    His age does not bother me. You don’t lose you anaerobic talent in the early 40’s. He has shown plenty of signs of it in frequent injury, and loss of power in ITTs, and lack of finishing punch, more frequent illness but he had at least in the skill-set of being able to adapt, and experiment with unique things such as ultra-wide handle bars, tapped wrist when confronted with major climbing stages, where he has team support, had shown good results in stage races that suited his climbing strengths when not confronted with wind conditions that set back his upright climbing style. Chris Froome has one of the oddest styles among Grand Tour champions, but he has more cards to play and is a much better all-rounder than Horner of course. If there was any Grand Tour that Chirs Horner could have one, it was 2013 Veulta a Espana for reasons cited. Insane the length of this. Insane drive from Horner, but it is an insane sport. Look at the way Horner was treated by Lampre putting him into the Tour de France last year to assist Rui Costa on the climbs. Had Lampre not been completed off in it’s expectations of Costa ever really being able to win a Grand Tour, and not so intested in flying the Rainbow Stripes. It should have been Costa proctecting Horner. Not that I think Horner could ever win the Tour de France, but stage wins and a high GC placing. How do you look the other way from a winning formula if Horner is well protected. They also sank his chances of defending his Vuelta title by either selecting him for the Tour de France in 2014 or allowing him to do so. No matte what he has said publicly about it, after such a serous injury, it would have made sense to allow him to go the route of the Tour of Austria, Utah, and then to the Vuelta. But as said, a bit of a nutty sport.

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