California: Leipheimer’s loss is Horner’s gain.

Take Leipheimer out of the picture.

In light of the terrible news that Levi Leipheimer will barely make it to the Tour of California in mid May after his life-threatening crash, the odds of Chris Horner (RadioShack Nissan-Trek) repeating as champion jus went up significantly.

When we interview Horner for Cycle Sport magazine in December, he flat out said the only rival he feared was Leipheimer. When I threw out names like Van Garderen and Zabriskie he shook his head no. Sadly an old Spanish lady took out the three time winner and he’s lucky to still be alive.

Given that Leipheimer has now been crossed off the list, it’s worth revisiting that Horner interview as he talks about the route and how he saw the race playing out.

“California has changed it dramatically from this year to last year. They made it worse for me. They’ve gotten rid of Sierra summit and they’ve added Big Bear. Everybody is going, oh my God, we’re going up Big Bear. I wasn’t happy. What I saw is I no longer have the Sierra climb and now have only one day to do everything correct on.”

“We’ll start the time trial with a lot of people on GC, a lot of people gapped together. There could be 50 guys between me and Levi. So now the wind could have a big effect. The problem is they haven’t given us a summit finish to split it up before we get to the time trial. Before we were 3-4 minutes apart now we could be an hour and the wind could change dramatically. The time trial might not even be fair. It might not be a straight up time trial.”

“Zabriskie could win the time trial — that’s what I would like to see. I want Zabriskie in the leaders jersey and not Levi when we start the Baldy stage. Worse case scenario is Levi in the leaders jersey. Best case scenario is anybody other than Levi has the jersey because Levi has to be aggressive on Baldy to win. That means I can follow him and then we can attack each other and go mano a mano.”

“I’m not gonna be in the leaders jersey before Baldy. I’m not gonna win the time trial. If I’m Jonathan Vaughters. they should have to control the race along with Levi all the way to the time trial. If you want the leaders jersey, they’ll have to control it so Zabriskie and Levi get to the time trial on even time.”

“I do believe I can win Baldy without a doubt. Whether I can gain the time back from the time trial, I don’t know. My odds increase if Levi loses the time trial.”

Horner has the race figured out and yes, his odds of winning the Tour of California went way up. Tejay Van Garderen anyone?

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