It wasn’t the thousands of kilometers of Spanish roads, nor the Vuelta’s pulsing attacks that did Chris Horner in this season. It was a Coke can.
The American RadioShack-Leopard rider crashed hard — like most riders, it seemed — during the UCI Elite Road World Championships on Sunday in Florence, Italy. When he did, he landed on a can full of Coke he’d put in his jersey pocket, cracking ribs in the process. That junk food. It may be the end of Chris Horner.
Horner is back in Bend, Oregon, now, calling it quits on the waning season. The eldest grand tour winner of all time, at 41, has yet to sign a deal for next season. VeloNews caught up with Horner this week.
VeloNews: How are you?
Chris Horner: Sore and beat up. Everything else is all right. It’s a pretty typical crash — not something I’m unused to. Nothing that you get used to, either.
VN: It’s never good to crash — but maybe it was better there than at the Vuelta?
CH: Oh yea. Absolutely. I literally got back to the team bus, I said, “there’s no reason to be upset, or sit here whining and crying.” Clearly I had phenomenal form. I was really, really good. The training just went beautiful between the Vuelta and worlds. But like you said, in Spain I didn’t get one flat tire, one crash, a mechanical, a mishap or anything. When everything’s all said and done, you look at the worlds we had … you had pretty good odds of going down.
VN: How about recovery? The season’s over, you said.
CH: Yea, but the season’s over because there wasn’t much left. If it was two moths, three months of racing, then it would be easy to make it. I’ve got some incredible bruise or fracture that’s just above my ass on my coccyx or something, whatever they call it, my tailbone. So I don’t know if sitting on the saddle is an option. And then I had a Coca Cola can in my jersey that I landed on … so that fractured some ribs there. … When I stuffed the Coke up my jersey, I thought, “I don’t know if that’s a safe place on a day like today.”
VN: Is the reality of all that’s happened in Spain catching up with you?
CH: You notice it when you’re in the airports and stuff like that, and people recognize you and come up and want pictures with you and stuff like that. Of course, in Spain, I had the jersey right away, stage 3, so you get a lot of TV time.
VN: What are you doing right now?
CH: Right now, I’m sitting on the couch. Right now, I’m finding a good team to ride for. I don’t know what the chances are of staying with Trek. That’s an option. But really, I’m looking at all teams out there and could possibly sign with any team, as soon as a day or it could be as soon as a few weeks from now. I’m looking at all options at the moment. But clearly, Trek has had a lot of time to sign me up and they haven’t chosen to do it soon enough.
VN: The win was huge. It helps you, obviously, as a result, but does it hurt you perhaps in the sense that teams may not want to sign you to be Tour domestique?
CH: It doesn’t hurt me in terms of finding a job. I can find a job an hour from now. But it makes it harder finding a job because you want to find a good-paying job. That’s the problem. Not every team has that kind of money available to just say, “Oh yea, we can just dish that out right now.” So that’s why it makes it hard to find a job. But if I wanted to find a job, I could find one in an hour. Call a ProTour team up and say, “Hey, give me $100 grand,” and I’d have a job tomorrow. So that’s not the problem. What the problem is, is when you win a grand tour you’ve got to find a team that has the value of what you’re worth. Clearly I have plans on riding the next couple years, and I have plans on winning the Tour of Spain next year, so to find a team that’s looking for that type of rider, that’s when it becomes difficult. But I don’t see staying with Trek. … I think I can break my own record and become the oldest rider to win the Tour of Spain again next year.
VN: So 42-year-old guys can win grand tours?
CH: Exactly. That’s what I’m getting at.
VN: You released all your biological passport data. How has it been received?
CH: It went really well. … It’s been really well received. I think a lot of the fans have liked it, and it shows all the teams out there directly that I’m not afraid to list any of that stuff publicly, because clearly there’s nothing there to worry about.
VN: Did anybody come to you and criticize any of the results?
CH: No. I don’t know about any blogs, but I don’t worry about a blog or something like that. Every response I’ve had has been really positive, even from my own team. … Of course, when I look at it, I don’t have Ph.D., Matt. So when I look at it, I don’t know what it means, but all I know is that the numbers are the same all the way through from 2008 through the Vuelta win. So, it should be out there. It should be easy to see I’m natural, clean, that I didn’t do anything to win the Tour of Spain. And that’s the best a rider can do. If I asked you right now, “Let’s go ahead and put out your history of all your health and all that stuff out there, we’ll just send it out to the world,” you’d be like, “fuck that. I don’t want to release that stuff.” It’s really private and personal. As a professional athlete, I can see why other riders don’t want to do that. But, clearly, when you win a grand tour, there’s a lot of skepticism that surrounds it. So I nipped it in bud; here’s the results, and it’s all done.
VN: Do you think every rider should have to release his (or her) information?
CH: No. No. I don’t think so. I think it’s really personal, I think it’s your own information. And I don’t think you should have to release it. It just opens it to more scrutiny and stuff like that … but it just seemed to make my life easier if I did. So I released it. Here’s the problem. You could easily be sick, and your hematocrit drops. You could easily go to altitude, and your hematocrit goes up. … It could be misinterpreted. I don’t know if it’s necessary. I don’t know if it’s the public’s right to see everybody’s blood. But it made my life easier, so I released it.
VN: Is it a hard time to be a rider? The fans, journalists, are armed to the teeth, there’s a certain amount of “armchair physiology” that’s taking place.
CH: It’s like the thing that came out with the VAM [average ascent speed] thing … some guy in Europe had this VAM formula. It was the most ridiculous thing. He wasn’t there at the event, so he doesn’t know what the wind was like. He doesn’t know how long I spent drafting on the wheel up front. He doesn’t know what happened, how long of a stage it was compared to the other stages. He doesn’t know what the competition was like. He has no idea what I weigh, has no idea if I did the climb with one full bottle, or zero bottles or two full bottles … but he came up with this magical number that says, “he must be doping.” And then, of course the journalists print that stuff, and the journalists didn’t check their own facts. Matt, I’m really quite surprised when I released my blood results from 2008, not one cycling newspaper or magazine or internet [site] has even paid to have a professional blood guy actually analyze my results and say, “look, these numbers are fantastic. they’re clean.” … Why haven’t you guys — and I don’t mean you guys, I mean the whole of the journalism area — why hasn’t all of [cycling] journalism paid the money to have a professional look at my blood results and then post to everybody on the web page about how clean my results are? Because I know my results are clean.
VN: You’re absolutely right. The problem is, I tried different guys, and nobody would touch it … yet.
CH: That’s — the sport just seems to want to view all the negative stuff, too. I understand it’s a very, very small population. When I step out of the car at the airport and 10 fans come up to me and want to have their pictures taken, I understand those fans loved what they saw at the Vuelta and appreciated what I did. So, I know 95 percent of the population out there loved watching the Tour of Spain … in general, no, it doesn’t bother me what the negative press comes out there and says, because you can expect that it’s coming. I’m 42 years old, and I’ve seen how a grand tour winner is treated after he wins.
VN: What about the next month? Presumably you’ve got some time on your hands.
CH: I’ll take a couple weeks off the bike. That’d be nice. When you’re racing that much, you’re really sore when you get out of bed, so it’ll be good to not be so sore. And I think it’ll take me a couple weeks to get over these little fractures that I got, then I should be pain free, which should be really cool. I’ll hang out and spend some time with the kids, and then, of course, pretty soon it’ll start snowing up here in Oregon and I can hang out and do some snowsports.
VN: Are you surprised it’s taken time to find a team, or did you kind of expect this?
CH: Well, I thought I was going with the [Fernando] Alonso team, so I really didn’t put much effort into searching for teams during the Tour of Spain, because I was contacted from that team, and so I thought, “Oh, it worked out.” So, either Trek will sign me again, or the Alonso team will sign me. I didn’t really put much effort into it. … And the then the Alonso team folded, and I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m going to have to do some phone calls.” But clearly there’s a team out there that I’m going to get on. There’s no dire worries or any stress or anything like that. I’m sitting 12th in the world. I just won the Tour of Spain. I’ve won a stage at Utah, wore the jersey at Utah, and I was sixth at Tirreno-Adriatico. I know what my value’s worth.