American Chris Horner is poised to sign with the Italian Lampre-Merida squad, sources close to the situation have told VeloNews.
The 42-year-old Vuelta a España champion will ride as one of the team’s GC leaders, alongside newly recruited world champion Rui Costa.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source close to the deal between Horner and Lampre said the contract was “essentially 100-percent done.”
Horner could not immediately be reached for comment.
Team officials in Australia on Friday confirmed that there had been contact between the Italian outfit and Horner.
“When I left Italy, there was nothing confirmed,” Lampre sport director Bruno Vicino told VeloNews. “I know that there has been some talks with Horner, some negotiating, but as far as I know, there is no official news. There is some interest from the team to sign an American.”
Vicino is in Australia ahead of the WorldTour-opening Santos Tour Down Under.
Horner has been seeking a contract for the 2014 season since his historic Vuelta victory in September. With his win, Horner became the oldest grand tour winner in cycling history. Reportedly asking more than the team was willing to spend, he was unable to work out a deal with his former RadioShack squad, which morphed into Trek Factory Racing for this season.
The American had also been rumored to join a new UCI ProTeam, headed by Formula One driver Fernando Alonso, which had been intended to salvage the Spanish Euskaltel-Euskadi squad, but that arrangement fell through, leaving the Spaniard to reorganize for 2015 and Horner to re-enter a tough job market. With only 18 teams vying for 18 places in cycling’s top division, the usual UCI points grab for the top teams cooled in the 2013-14 off-season, and so, too, did Horner’s value.
Horner has since been linked to the Danish Continental squad Christina Watches, as well as Spanish Pro Continental team Caja Rural-Seguros; however, neither scenario came to fruition. According to an e-mail released by the Danish team, Horner’s newly signed agent Baden Cooke informed Christina Watches management that the lack of a grand tour on its schedule made a deal impossible. Caja Rural officials subsequently told Spanish journalists that the team’s roster was already filled, and that there was no room to sign Horner.
Lampre is one of two Italian ProTeams, and will contest all three grand tours, along with every race on the UCI WorldTour calendar. With Costa aiming for the Tour de France, a Lampre deal could open Horner up for a run at the Giro d’Italia, one of his stated 2014 goals, alongside former winner Damiano Cunego, and a defense of his Vuelta crown.
Horner, who has ridden with Saunier Duval, Lotto, Astana, and RadioShack since returning to Europe from the U.S. in 2005, is a former winner of the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) and Amgen Tour of California and finished second to 2013 Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali at the 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico. He finished sixth at Tirreno in 2013, but missed four months of the season with an IT band and knee injury suffered in the cold, rainy Italian stage race. Horner returned to win a stage and finish second overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah before barnstorming to a surprise Vuelta title and two stage wins.
European correspondent Andrew Hood contributed reporting to this story.