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Why Lampre signing Horner is all wrong

Chris Horner is the favourite to take out Stage 3 of the Tour of Utah. (Image: Team Sky).
Expert
20th February, 2014
9
4790 Reads

This isn’t a new story. It’s been kicking around now since the end of January.

Yet there’s been very little commentary written on the deal that will see last year’s surprise Vuelta a Espana winner of 2013, Chris Horner, twinkling his little magic toes all over the World Tour again this year.

I haven’t written more than a dozen words on Horner, ever, and I wasn’t going to write anything this time. You may be of the camp that thinks ‘Good on him’ – after all there aren’t many 41-year-olds who’ve won a Grand Tour for the first time in their life.

Well, there has never been another, in fact.

The magnitude of Horner’s feat did not go unnoticed, though the reaction to it was a little less in awe than I’m sure he would have wished.

The cycling forums went mad with all kinds of allegations and suspicions that were largely to be expected.

Horner’s win though came at a point in the history of this sport when older riders were suddenly finding themselves without contracts in greater numbers than ever before.

If you were older and had any kind of suspicion of doping infringements lingering around you, like Luis Leon Sanchez, then boom, you were cut loose and cast into the wilderness.

Horner was rumoured to be going to Christina Watches for some time until the news that he was being welcomed on to Lampre-Merida, a move that some in the UCI would have been less than thrilled by.

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See, there is something about Horner that just doesn’t smell right. I’m not saying anything new there, but it’s still worth looking over the reasons why for a moment.

First of all, a little known rider (outside of the USA) named Matt DiCanio went on record as far back as 2005 to say that another rider, Phil Zajicek, was offered help to purchase EPO and HGH when both rode for the American professional team Saturn.

DiCanio has also gone on record to say that Horner once said many years ago “It isn’t cheating if everyone is doing it.”

Secondly, Horner’s blood values from the 2013 Vuelta “fit with the patterns that anti-doping authorities look for as a sign of cheating.” Not my words, those of Michael Puchowicz in Outside Magazine.

The article states that Hornet’s hemoglobin concentration is simply too high to be natural. The other marker is the lowered reticulocyte count which is another sign of the use of EPO.

Puchowicz’s observations were seen by Shane Stokes of VeloNation, who passed them on to anti-doping authority Robin Parisotto, who works with the Athlete Passport Management Unit in Lausanne, France.

“It is not 100 percent clear that there is anything untoward happening,” Parisotto told Velonation, “[but] there’s certainly unusual patterns.”

He compares Horner’s bio passport to other profiles he has seen working as an anti-doping authority and concludes that “…most of those that come across to us are suspicious. Most are there for a reason. What I have seen with this particular profile is similar to those other profiles.”

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Why didn’t the UCI investigate this? No idea.

Is any of this enough reason to suspend Horner? My gut says no, but if an anti-doping authority is stating that Horner’s values are suspicious why isn’t the UCI investigating?

One person who is probably asking himself these very questions and who has far more of a divested interest in all this than just about anyone else is another American rider – or should I say ex-rider – Craig Lewis.

Some of you may remember the now 29-year-old rider, who has just announced his retirement.

At 19, riding in the Tour de Georgia, Lewis was hit by a car and suffered two punctured lungs, internal bleeding and several fractures all over his body, almost passing away as a result.

Months of recovery followed before he returned to the pro ranks with Slipstream before moving on to HTC, where he won the team time trial at the 2011 Giro d’Italia. Days before the end of that race he broke a femur, forcing him out and eventually on to the Pro Continental Champion Systems team, which folded just last year.

Then he got a berth on the Lampre-Merida team. Well, he would have had a place there, had the management not decided to go and sign a 41-year-old American called Chris Horner.

The same guy who says he saw no doping on Bruyneel’s teams, the same guy who defended Armstrong until it became impossible even for his greatest apologists to do so, the same guy about whom all those rumours have been flying around.

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“I thought we had already hit rock bottom, but it keeps going down,” Lewis said in an interview recently with Cyclingnews. “The sport just doesn’t market itself, and it needs some big changes – a lot has to happen for the sport to be appealing for companies to sponsor. It’s not sustainable the way it is.”

With riders like Horner still finding places to ply their trade, you’d have to agree with Lewis.