Johan Bruyneel has clarified the controversial decision to leave popular veteran Chris Horner off RadioShack-Nissan’s Tour de France team, saying that when Horner passed on a start at the Tour de Suisse, he also torpedoed his own chances to race the Tour.
Speaking to VeloNews on Tuesday, the Belgian director said it was Horner’s decision to not race this week’s Tour de Suisse, something that Bruyneel said was essential for him to be considered for the team’s final Tour nine.
“It was communicated very clearly to him that in order to be selected for the Tour, he had to be at the Tour de Suisse,” Bruyneel told VeloNews. “If that was not the case, then he had no possibilities to be on the Tour de France team.”
On Monday, RadioShack-Nissan released its long list of 14 riders being considered for final selection to make the nine-man team for the June 30 start of the 2012 Tour.
Horner’s omission surprised many and team officials initially said part of the problem was that Horner was suffering from a back injury.
Horner, however, told VeloNews overnight that he had since recovered from minor back pain that flared up during the Amgen Tour of California and that he was in condition to race the Tour, having just come off a 600-mile training week.
In the meantime, there’s been a growing storm of indignation among Horner’s many fans and supporters.
Bruyneel, however, said there’s more to the story and insisted that it was Horner’s decision to pull himself out of the Tour de Suisse, which started Saturday in Lugano.
“It’s not that we didn’t give him the option,” Bruyneel said. “Chris was given the choice (to race the Swiss tour), so when he said no, that was the same for me as saying, ‘I also give up on the Tour.’”
The Belgian director said he spelled out very clearly to everyone on the team at the beginning of the season that in order to be selected for the Tour, riders had to participate in either the Critérium du Dauphiné, which ended Sunday, or the Tour de Suisse.
Bruyneel said he wanted riders in those races in order to hone their form ahead of the Tour as well as to demonstrate they were up to the task of carrying the team colors for three weeks in the season’s most important race.
The only exception was for riders who participated in the Giro d’Italia. Fränk Schleck was the team’s only rider long-listed for the Tour team after starting the Giro, but the Luxembourger abandoned the race during the 15th stage and currently sits second overall in Switzerland.
“Just after California, Chris had a back problem and he had asked for some time off to treat it. That was fine; then he asked the team to not ride the Tour de Suisse. Our position was — my position was — in order to be selected for the Tour, he was required to be at the Tour de Suisse,” Bruyneel said. “We didn’t ask any results from him, but out of fairness to all the other guys who are racing, he had to be there.”
Last year, Horner raced neither the Dauphiné nor the Swiss tour, but things have changed dramatically in the wake of the fusion between RadioShack and Leopard-Trek for the 2012 season.
With the presence of Tour podium contenders Andy and Fränk Schleck as well as time trial powerhouse Fabian Cancellara, there is more competition among the team’s riders to make the nine-man Tour selection.
“Last year was different because (Horner) was in top shape. He was already at a high level after winning California; he was second at the Basque Country. And it was also not such a deep team as we have this year,” Bruyneel said. “Last year, the Tour selection was a lot easier. Now the selection is a lot more difficult. I still have to tell four or five guys they’re not going to the Tour.”
Bruyneel also said he spoke to Horner on Tuesday to discuss the Tour decision.
He admitted that he did not directly tell Horner of the news earlier this week about the Tour omission, but also said that the team is organized such that each of the team’s six sport directors work closely with up to five riders on the team.
Horner’s point man within the RadioShack organization is Alain Gallopin, his former director and trusted confidante when he raced in Europe in the late 1990s with the Francaise des Jeux team from 1997-99.
Bruyneel says it was clearly communicated to Horner via Gallopin about the implications of his decision to bypass the Tour de Suisse.
“I talked to Chris today. I wasn’t in agreement with some of his comments he made and he said he wasn’t in agreement with some of the comments from the team about his back injury,” Bruyneel said. “His back injury is not the reason why he is not on the Tour team. It’s because he chose not to ride the Tour de Suisse. I need to make the selection from those two races… If someone has an injury, the risk is too high to wait until the Tour to see if it’s healed.”
Bruyneel also confirmed that Horner is under contract with RadioShack-Nissan for the 2013 season and that there is no bad blood between the parties.
“There is not a reason why he shouldn’t race the Tour next year,” Bruyneel said, also shooting down the rumor that there were some lingering effects from Horner’s crash in last year’s Tour. “Absolutely not. He’s been in all the big races this year. Basque Country, the classics, California — that’s absolutely not true.”
Bruyneel said he is traveling to the Swiss tour tomorrow to meet with riders and staff to finalize the process of trimming the Tour roster down to nine riders.
“I cannot say now who is going to be picked,” Bruyneel concluded, saying, “there is not going to be any big surprises.”