Chris Horner’s wish to wear “one of those hats” came true Saturday when the popular veteran scored the biggest win of his career in Spain’s Basque Country tour.
Horner was fastest in the final day time trial duel against Alejandro Valverde, winning the 22-kilometer time trial and earning the honor of wearing the trademark “txapela,” a distinctive, over-sized beret awarded to the winner of the grueling Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
Horner, 38, said he was on great form and he proved it Saturday to win the final stage and claim his team’s first major stage race victory of the year.
“I had good legs today, but honestly, the whole week I had good legs,” Horner said. Yesterday I saved some forces because I wanted to be super today in the time trial. Already from day one in this race I was confident about this time trial.”
The RadioShack captain started one second behind Valverde on the overall standings, but set the fastest markers on the early big climb to lead Valverde by 20 seconds. His Spanish rival trimmed the difference in the second half of the stage, but Horner had enough gas to win by eight seconds, securing the overall by seven seconds.
Horner was followed by director Viatcheslav Ekimov, driving the RadioShack team car in support.
“When I saw Chris warming up this morning I saw what concentration he had and I thought to myself, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be good, he means business,’” said Ekimov. “I couldn’t stop talking on the radio. I was yelling his split times, giving him Valverde’s times and in general just yelling ‘Go! Go! Go!’”
Maxime Monfort (HTC-Columbia) was third fastest 13 seconds off the pace. Favorite Sammy Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) could only muster sixth at 23 seconds slower.
Euskaltel’s Benat Intxausti finished third overall, at 58 seconds, to save the honor for the home team.
Horner is slated to ride in the next month’s Amgen Tour of California, but before that he will line up for the Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Horner said he’ll approach those races “with the same ambition to win.”
“I crashed very bad in Liège last year in the Vuelta, but that had nothing to do with the Liège-classic,” Horner said. “If you are not motivated for Liège-Bastogne-Liège, it’s time to retire. My moment hasn’t come yet.”
Top-10, Stage 6:
1. Christopher Horner (USA), Team RadioShack
2. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse D’epargne, at 0:08
3. Maxime Monfort (B), HTC-Columbia, at 0:13
4. Michael Rogers (Aus), HTC-Columbia, at 0:18
5. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:21
6. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:23
7. Marco Pinotti (I), HTC-Columbia, at 0:25
8. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Sp), Team Katusha, at 0:33
9. Jean-Christophe Peraud (F), Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:33
10. Andreas Klöden (G), Team RadioShack, at 0:34
Top 10, Final standings
1. Christopher Horner (USA), Team Radioshack
2. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Caisse D’epargne, at 0:07
3. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:58
4. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Sp), Team Katusha, at 1:06
5. Jean-Christophe Peraud (F), Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 1:10
6. Marco Pinotti (I), HTC-Columbia, at 1:18
7. Sandy Casar (F), Française des Jeux, at 1:47
8. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:58
9. Robert Gesink (Nl), Rabobank, at 1:59
10. Dries Devenyns (B), Quick Step, at 2:27