PRATI DI TIVO, Italy (VN) — Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) had a front-row seat at the Sky show on Saturday while securing his own place in Tirreno-Adriatico. The 41-year-old, after battling riders half his age, placed fifth on the race’s summit finish to Prati di Tivo.
“I’m 41, or 42 this year,” Horner said. “If you don’t have it figured out by now then you should’ve probably retired a long time ago.”
Horner rolled in as a light rain started to fall. It began to wash off the sweat and dirt, but his memories remained fresh.
He held onto Sky’s express train going up the 14.5km climb to the ski station at 1450m. Chris Froome employed Dario Cataldo, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Urán — in that order — to set a tempo that made it impossible for attackers to break free.
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) tried twice, but each time Sky ground away behind and pulled him back. The second time, Froome followed it up with an attack of his own at 1km out and won the stage. Horner scrambled as the fireworks went off. He placed fifth on the stage at 15 seconds back.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), only 22 years old, leads the race by four seconds over Froome. Horner sits in sixth at 40 seconds, but only 24 seconds from a podium spot.
The best field ever (besides the Tour)
Horner survived Sky’s pace-making when Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), teammate Andy Schleck and others were dropped. He withstood Contador’s attacks. He finished in company with Froome (second at the Tour last year), Vincenzo Nibali (third), Contador (multiple Grand Tour winner) and other stars.
“This race is the best quality field beside the Tour de France that I’ve ever seen put together, I mean ever,” Horner said
“Paris-Nice, whatever, there’s nobody there. Everybody’s here, the best sprinters, the best GC guys in the world. This is a Tour de France-quality field like I’ve never seen before. This is the best; I’ve never seen anything with a quality field like this, besides the Tour de France.
“I’m very pleased to finish fifth. I’d like to win, though. I thought I could get the win actually, but when I saw Froome go I realized that wasn’t a possibility.”
The race wraps up with a 9.2km time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto. Horner knows it well; he lost the race lead there last year to Nibali.
Before the TT, there are two more nasty days the Apennine Mountains of Abruzzo and Le Marche. Sunday’s stage t5 o Chieti climbs up the Passo Lanciano and closes with short and sharp climbs.
Horner has his eyes on the podium.
“You always want to win, but I’d be happy with a top 10 in a field of this quality,” Horner said.
“I’d like to be on the podium. You got to figure if you can go podium, it’s good. There’s only tomorrow to Chieti that is sharp and steep. I think that this and the TT will decide it, though. My days of the GC were made here.”
The Sky way
Froome watched Sky’s Italian, Cataldo, and its two Colombians, Henao and Urán go to work.
Cataldo reduced the field to a couple dozen riders. Henao trimmed it further, to around 10 riders, and Contador fired twice, at 6.2km and at 2.7km out. Urán took over at times, but remained protected to launch Froome to the win, similar to what Froome did for Wiggins at the Tour de France last year.
Horner has seen it all in 16 years as a pro, but Sky’s ride still impressed him
“Sky blew the field apart. Froome was very patient when Contador was attacking; he stayed with his teammates. They were very strong. With 1K to go, Contador, Nibali and [Mauro] Santambrogio were gone, but Froome still stayed patient until finally they were insight. He just did one acceleration, dropped me and went past the others,” Horner explained.
“They had one moment where they slowed down a bit, where we dropped a lot of power, but then Contador attacked and they picked it back up. It was intelligent racing from Sky. They have a lot of good guys and Froome was patient. Almost a carbon copy of the Tour.”