American veteran Chris Horner is relaxed, recovered and ready heading into the coming week, which marks the first training camp for the newly merged all-star squad of RadioShack and Leopard-Trek members.
“It’s time to go back to work,” said Horner, the 2011 Amgen Tour of California winner who last pinned on a race number on July 9, the day he crashed out of the Tour de France with a concussion and ankle injury. Later that month he developed a blood clot in his lung, and was forced to sit out the remainder of the season, both to allow his lung to recover and because of the anti-coagulant medicine he was taking.
Since that crash his team has undergone a major transformation, merging with the Leopard-Trek squad of Tour de France podium finishers Andy and Fränk Schleck and classics champion Fabian Cancellara.
Three directors from each team have been confirmed for RadioShack-Nissan going into next season. From Leopard-Trek, staying on will be Kim Andersen, Lars Michaelsen and Luca Guercilena; Alain Gallopin, Jose Azevedo and Dirk Demol are continuing from RadioShack.
The team will hold a weeklong training camp in Calpe, Spain, a beach town on Spain’s eastern coast between Valencia and Murcia. A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday, December 6.
“For me, the team has the same feel as last year, working under Johan (Bruyneel), (Alain) Gallopin, the same guys,” Horner said. “And the Leopard guys will have a lot of the same main directors to work with one on one. Usually how it works is there are five or six directors on each team, and each director takes on four or five riders they stay in contact with all year. For me, each year it has been Gallopin.”
Asked about the potential for ego clashes as the two top teams settle into one, Horner said he isn’t worried about it.
“I think bringing so many strong riders together is actually the upside to the mix of this team. I don’t think there will be an ego problem,” Horner said. “I’ve known the Schleck brothers since I came back to Europe in 2005. Over the years we’ve always stayed at the same hotels, I’ve had dinner with the guys. I’ve even gone to the movies with the guys when we were stuck at the same hotel between Amstel Gold Race and Liège–Bastogne–Liège.
“I’ve known Jens Voigt since 1997 or ’98. So that won’t be too strange. Klödi (Andreas Klöden) doesn’t have an ego. Fabian is a character, but there’s no ego there. I don’t know him as well. I haven’t spent as much time racing with him. Jakob (Fuglsang) seems like a nice kid, all the times I have run into him.”
Horner said a lack of egos wouldn’t mean a lack of pressure, however, for the new team.
“I hope there is a lot of pressure,” Horner said. “That’s the point, on a team like this, with this kind of depth, you gotta come up with some results. The way I see the sport, you have Alberto Contador, who is still number one, Cadel (Evans) is putting on a good show at the grand tours and weeklong stage races, and then you have the strongest team in the world, which is ours. When you look at the mix, we’re not such a strong team that we can just show up and win, but we will have the strongest numbers.
“But we’ve still got to beat Alberto, and he’s the strongest rider. If he’s off again next year at the Tour, you can beat him outright, but if he’s on the form we’ve seen him in the past, you have to beat him with numbers and tactics, and this is the perfect scenario, a strong team with four or five guys capable of riding for GC.”
As for his health, Horner said he was able to bring himself back up to 90 percent of full strength in training before backing off his training load.
“Training is no problem,” he said. “I spent a month, six weeks off the bike, then eight weeks of training. I took the form up to 90 percent, and I did that for two weeks at 90 percent and then shut it back down to take a normal winter break. I usually start training harder on January 1, this year it will be a few weeks earlier, probably just a little after camp, in early December. So I’ll have had two breaks since July — six weeks off, eight weeks of training, six weeks easy, then back to training again.
“I won’t be riding hard at camp. Some guys may be getting ready for early-season stuff, like Het Volk, but the for the majority of us, we’ll be trying to find form for March. More than anything, December training camp is just to bring everyone together in the same place. If you don’t have a camp in early December, you can go two or three months without seeing everyone.”