Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) is already rewriting the history books as the oldest rider to win and lead a grand tour, but the story is not going to end here.
The 41-year-old Horner said his extraordinary Vuelta a España is not some sort of closing chapter on his long career. Instead, he is planning to keep on trucking, and Horner told VeloNews he wants to race at least two more seasons.
“Two years is doable,” Horner told VeloNews. “It’s not that far-fetched. The form’s not going to disappear overnight. And even then, I’m not going to say I am going to retire. I am just really enjoying racing the bike right now.”
Horner, who insists there are no “surprises” that come with his performance during this Vuelta, has overcome a string of crashes and injuries over the past few seasons to carry tremendous form into Spain.
That he’s emerged as one of the favorites for overall victory coincides just as his contract is up with RadioShack is something that gives Horner even more confidence that he can land a two-year contract with a major team.
RadioShack, his professional home since 2010, would be the natural choice for Horner, but other teams will certainly be interested.
With two stage wins, Horner will already be packing some valuable UCI points even before the Vuelta ends September 15 in Madrid. And if he manages to finish on the podium, or even win, his value could skyrocket.
“There’s no contract yet, but I don’t need to wait until the end of the Vuelta. I know my what my value is as a rider,” Horner continued. “The teams around me understand that as well.”
After having potentially career-ending knee surgery this year, Horner admitted he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to return to racing before the 2013 season was over.
“I wasn’t worried that [the surgery] would stop me from racing my bike. I was worried that it was going to take longer to get back. Maybe it would take eight months instead of five, then I would have missed the Vuelta,” he said. “There have been some disappointing days, for sure. I missed out on a lot of racing, but I focused on being ready for the Vuelta.”
Horner, who was named to the U.S. world championship team for later this month in Italy, said he realizes that another serious crash or injury could prematurely end his long career that dates back nearly two decades.
“If you crash tomorrow and break a leg, the offers wouldn’t continue to come in,” he said. “If a 20-year-old breaks his leg while leading the Vuelta, and it takes three years to come back, someone would still sign him. If you crash and break your leg at 41, and it’s three years to recovery, then you’re done.”
In fact, Horner admitted that avoiding a heavy crash or an illness is his top worry going into the final half of the Vuelta.
Horner has crashed out of several high-profile events over the past few years — including the 2009 Giro d’Italia with a broken leg and the 2011 Tour de France with a concussion — and wants to avoid that at all costs.
“The only thing I fear now is more of the unknown,” he said. “I know I can stay with [Vincenzo] Nibali and [Alejandro] Valverde on the climbs. The big thing in a grand tour is if you can avoid being sick, avoid crashing in the numerous pileups. That would be the only disappointment, if I crashed out or got sick.”
Horner said he’s enjoying training and racing so much he hasn’t even thought about what he will do once he finally does hang up the bike.
“It’s been a very good journey. It’s one I’ve enjoyed and I want to continue a bit longer,” he said.
And if pulls off the victory in Madrid? Horner said the celebration would be mild-mannered.
“I am too old to party!” he said. “The only place I feel good is when I am on the bike. You’re never really comfortable until you’re into that first hour of the bike. The bike is the zen.”
And if Horner does ride two more seasons, and manages to make the 2015 worlds team, he would be nearly 44 years old.