SANTIAGO, Chile (VN) — Responding to a report that Chris Horner is on the verge of signing with Lampre-Merida, the team’s general manager Brent Copeland told VeloNews Saturday that he’s “very interested” in bringing Horner on board, adding that, if the team can find the budget, he hopes to have Horner’s signature by Friday, January 24.
A former pro cyclist from South Africa, Copeland, 41, raced alongside Oscar Camenzind and Rubens Bertogliati before becoming a sports director at Lampre at the age of 27. He left the team in 2010 and spent three years on the MotoGP circuit before returning to Lampre as general manager in October 2013.
While Horner has spent the past three months searching for a contract on the heels of his historic Vuelta a España victory — and has been linked to several teams in recent weeks — sources have told VeloNews that the 42-year-old American is ironing out the final details of a deal that would land him on the Italian UCI ProTeam alongside world road champion Rui Costa.
“Chris has a huge amount of talent,” Copeland said. “I personally think there is a lot to Chris that not many people know. He can read the race well. He’s an intelligent racer.”
Asked about what sort of role Horner would serve at Lampre, and how that might work in concert with the role of Tour de Suisse champion Costa, Copeland said the two would not likely share race schedules.
“I could see Horner as a GC rider at the Giro d’Italia, along with [Przemysław] Niemiec and [Damiano] Cunego, or else as a GC rider at the [Amgen] Tour of California, the Tour of the Basque Country, and the Vuelta a España,” Copeland said.
“A rider with the class of Chris will not have a similar schedule to Rui Costa, however if they did find themselves in similar races, they are both mature enough to know their positions. Also, we have a respected number of directors who will know how to handle the technical side of this type of situation.”
On the heels of news about contract talks with Horner, Copeland recently told Tuttobici that the team was interested in bringing aboard an American rider.
Asked to elaborate on Lampre’s interest in signing an American — the team’s primary sponsors are Italian (Lampre) and Taiwanese (Merida) — Copeland said: “I personally feel the team needs to internationalize itself more, and so bringing in an American rider can only help with this. Also we have sponsorship interest in the American market, and I feel with him being the great person he is, he has a huge following in the USA, which I’m sure will bring a lot more American fans to follow Lampre-Merida.”
Copeland also said Horner’s experience is a major selling point as it looks to develop a new generation of young riders.
“Our intentions would have Chris helping out the young riders on the team, as we are investing in a big way in young riders, teaching them what is right and wrong, both in race situations and out of race situations,” Copeland said. ‘This kind of knowledge is not something one can buy — it is only gained by experience, which Chris has plenty of.”
As for why Horner has had such a hard time finding a job, Copeland pointed to a number of factors — his age, and the timing of his best-ever result, in late September, after many teams had already committed budget to other riders.
“Besides his age, which seems to have frightened a few teams, I think Chris found himself in the wrong places at the wrong time with the various negotiations he was having,” Copeland said.
“This played to his unfortunate disadvantage, and it dragged on for far too long, until he found himself in no-man’s land and most WorldTour teams were wrapped up for the 2014 season. It is an unfortunate situation for a rider who deserves much more; it would not be great to see him finish his career in this unfortunate way.”
The big question remaining, of course, is whether Lampre can come up with the funds for the Vuelta champion; Horner is rumored to be seeking a $1 million salary.
“We are working on this,” Copeland said. “Finding budget during the season is difficult for any team, never mind trying to find it in January. However, we want to offer Chris what he deserves.”
Pressed for comment, Horner wrote in an email to VeloNews, “The work is not finished yet,” adding that it “should be done soon.”
Copeland said he hoped to have the deal done by the end of the coming week.
“As soon as we can find the resources to fulfill his request and to come to an agreement,” he said. “My preference would be to have it wrapped up before January 24.”