Excited or worried by red-hot Horner?

Felix Lowe Columnist

By Felix Lowe, Felix Lowe is a Roar Expert

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    Chris Horner. Photo via Twitter: @hornerakg

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    For someone consistently described as “evergreen” Chris Horner is spending rather a lot of time in red.

    A wondrously unpredictable opening phase of the Vuelta came to a conclusion on Monday with double stage winner Horner – a rider one month younger than Lance Armstrong – returning to the top of the general classification after another rampaging solo attack on the Alto Hazallanas.

    “Horner wins stage 10, never sitting down, always in his pedals for the last 4km. He should be the new leader too. Congrats!”

    It was a simple, matter-of-fact tweet by the official Katusha team Twitter feed moments after Monday’s stage – but one for which the irony (however unintentional) was hard not to miss.

    For Horner did indeed spend the most part of the final slog to the summit out of the saddle, turning a consistently higher gear than the chasing favourite, Vincenzo Nibali, who fast-pedalled in pursuit with a high cadence while firmly rooted to his saddle.

    It could seem a bit churlish, however, to flag up Horner for the manner about which he rode back into the leader’s red jersey, especially when you consider how Chris Froome’s critics harrumphed over the Sky rider’s tendency to strike by doing the exact opposite – with high-cadence, in-the-saddle bursts of acceleration – during his decisive mountain attacks in July’s Tour de France.

    But RadioShack’s Horner – a contemporary and former teammate of both Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, and whose former employees include Astana and Saunier-Duval – is almost 15 years older than Froome.

    To maintain such a consistent pace, regardless of style, was an extraordinary feat.

    Seeing a rider of the old guard, one who both looks and sounds like a character from The Simpsons, comprehensively bettering his considerably younger rivals does make you go ‘Hmm…’ – especially in the light of cycling’s recent woes and tainted history.

    When you have a respected cycling journalist – one who is always quick to show his dismay at scattergun doping accusations – quipping online that Ivan Basso’s form looks promising and that he “has the advantage of youth over Horner” then it’s hard not to take a deep breath between the chuckles.

    It doesn’t help that Horner was one of Armstrong’s main allies during the Texan’s long and protracted fall from grace – something which gives you even less reason to feel so ashamed about a knee-jerk reaction felt (presumably) by most cycling fans out there.

    Then recall that Horner, in June last year, went on the record to stress that he didn’t “believe Armstrong cheated in any way to win those victories,” before adding: “in the end he’s getting prosecuted and there’s no positive test.”

    Finger-pointing is a dangerous affair, however.

    It’s worth pointing out that while Horner already became cycling’s oldest Grand Tour stage winner and race leader after his stage three triumph at Lobeira last week, neither victorious ride was exactly in the same bracket as Floyd Landis’s infamous stage 17 solo blitz in the 2006 Tour de France.

    And while Horner’s only ever top ten finish in a Grand Tour came in the 2010 Tour de France, we should remember that we’re not even half way through this Vuelta.

    At the moment, Horner’s merely excelled in an opening phase where the main favourite has done his best not to wear the leader’s jersey, where a Scottish-sponsored team have opened up their Grand Tour stage account through Leopold Konig, where – unlikelihood of unlikelihoods – Nicolas Roche has not only won a stage but also worn every classification jersey (including the red), while Roche’s Saxo-Tinkoffteammate Michael Morkov has won a mass sprint.

    Look, even Sky’s Colombian duo Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao are comprehensively faltering – and aren’t they the team that have access to some kind of dastardly super drug that’s making their riders dominate every major race?

    In short: Horner’s not the only oddity or anomaly in this race.

    Two years ago, Dutchman Bauke Mollema went into the first rest day leading the race and ended up finishing fourth.

    Such is the brutal parcours of the remaining 11 stages of the race – which includes summit finishes in Peyragudes, Pena Carbarga and the Alto de l’Angliru – I’d be highly surprised if Horner even managed to match Mollema’s Madrid finish, let alone make a sustained bid for the red jersey.

    The 41-year-old American has already admitted he expects to concede the lead to Nibali after Wednesday’s 38.8km individual time trial in Tarazona.

    So while it’s clearly a concern to read jokes about Horner’s performances giving hope to the shamed Riccardo Ricco, whose ban will end in April 2024 when the Italian rider is 40, such a comment should still be read for what it’s meant to be: a joke.

    A man pressing 42 can perform well over 10 days. Should Horner still be up there come Madrid, that’s when the alarm bells should start ringing. Then we would have a real problem.

    But by then I readily expect the likes of Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez to render this whole debate quite irrelevant. And when that happens, we’ll probably just pick another target – rightly or wrongly – and carry on.

    Felix Lowe
    Felix Lowe

    Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.

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    The Crowd Says (12)

    • September 4th 2013 @ 9:48am
      Frank said | September 4th 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Rider 15 (usada report)
      Never a GC contender in his athletic prime (20s to early-30s)
      43 years-old & best year of his career.

      Of course

      • Columnist

        September 4th 2013 @ 5:32pm
        Felix Lowe said | September 4th 2013 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

        Doped and doping is different. Believe me, I definitely have my suspicions and I’m fully aware of how things were earlier in his career – I think that is alluded to numerous times – but just trying to put it in context and take a step back. Before Horner takes a step back: today will surely be his last day in the red.

        • September 4th 2013 @ 8:20pm
          sittingbison said | September 4th 2013 @ 8:20pm | ! Report

          You don’t expect him to top 5 in the ITT Felix?

          • Columnist

            September 4th 2013 @ 11:43pm
            Felix Lowe said | September 4th 2013 @ 11:43pm | ! Report

            I don’t. Perhaps not even in top 10.

    • September 4th 2013 @ 2:48pm
      sittingbison said | September 4th 2013 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

      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. But this is one hell of a race. This is a great sporting event and you should stand around and believe it. You should believe in these athletes, and you should believe in these people. I’ll be a fan of the Vuelta of Spain for as long as I live. And there are no secrets — this is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it. So Vive le Veulta forever!

      Oh, and one of the redeeming things about being an athlete is redefining what is humanly possible.


    • September 5th 2013 @ 8:02am
      liquor box said | September 5th 2013 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      His performances are awesome so far, but not quite to the level of the Turkish cyclists in the last two tours of Turkey.

      At least Horner was a known cyclist before blowing away the best in the world

    • Roar Guru

      September 5th 2013 @ 12:35pm
      Bones506 said | September 5th 2013 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

      Nibali will hold the Red from here on out.

    • September 7th 2013 @ 5:51pm
      Al-Bo said | September 7th 2013 @ 5:51pm | ! Report

      Horner was second in Tirreno-Adriatico last year and sixth this year. That’s a tough race, so it’s not really a huge leap from hanging with the leaders to taking time out of them in the first week of a Grand Tour.

      You ration your efforts in a three week race and Horner might wish he’d ridden a bit more conservatively as we get into the Pyrenees.

      • September 8th 2013 @ 8:15pm
        tony meadows said | September 8th 2013 @ 8:15pm | ! Report

        Well they’re in the Pyrenees and Horner is still near the front and dancing on his pedals
        .I agree with sittingbison I have to believe in something that is entirely possible, untill, there has to be doubt
        based on something NOT being possible.

    • September 10th 2013 @ 12:51pm
      J Miller said | September 10th 2013 @ 12:51pm | ! Report

      Felix – Take this with a grain of salt – or maybe the whole salt shaker. I think I am just getting so sick of the negativity, innuendos, and so many of the cycling blogs/twitter feeds becoming so dark and nasty – including and led by many of twitterers / bloggers you interact with. The same ones I used to enjoy reading. The snark has become so dark that most of it is no longer funny and it wears on me and many others who have been tuning out. It no longer seems to be coming from a “good place” / wanting to clean up cycling. It has become, for many, a gleeful witch hunt. For those of us tuning out from the cycling twitter feeds and blogs, we don’t “bury our heads in the sand” re. cycling’s problems and do not want anyone to do that re. cycling – but the nastiness and darkness is not coming from a good place anymore.

      The evidence put forth by your article (and the various others) are as follows:
      (1) His age – so he must be doping
      (2) His generation – so he must be doping
      (3) His teammates – so he must be doping

      Case closed. We all hate him. All our cycling doping anger is directed at him and put forth as fact that he is doping. In addition, he is American and well, they are the most evil, especially the happy ones – so of course, he must be doping. Our current vitriol does not extend to other cyclists, including his GC competitors, the very recent dopers riding these same races, sanctioned dopers getting signed lucrative contracts or running / managing teams. No, we cannot be bothered by that as we are having too much fun bemoaning on twitter every time Horner is not dropped or does not fall out of GC contention. Yessir, this is our way of cleaning up cycling…step right up and take a swing, as hard as you can, I’ll hold Horner. When he falls to floor, make sure to kick him too. Don’t forget to wear your boots. We are ridiculous. I am just so, so sick of this.

      • September 10th 2013 @ 11:50pm
        Mario said | September 10th 2013 @ 11:50pm | ! Report

        Yes, it seems either the twitter verse feigns disgust and indignation with Horner or takes pleasure in lynching him. It must be group think, fall in line with our view or we infer you are a moron, apologist, or corrupt.

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