Horner takes Vuelta red jersey from weary Nibali.

Horner in red, two days from Madrid.

Chris Horner cannot wait to win the Vuelta a Espana.

For those who thought Chris Horner might wait until the fearsome Angliru on Saturday to erase the final three second deficit on Vincenzo Nibali, the answer is nope.

“Today was a game of tactics.  I was never on my limit on the last climb but I didn’t want to sprint for the time bonuses.  I knew I couldn’t win that,” said Horner. “But mentally and physically I felt just fine on the last climb.  I wasn’t thinking of going for the red jersey.  It just came on its own.”

Hey, the guy is almost 42 years old — he’ll never be in this astonishing position again and Saturday he’ll be a day older. His next hard crash means he’s permanently retired. He knows you get a shot at becoming the oldest grand Tour winner in history, you strike when you got the legs.

No, there’s no time to waste for Horner and so he attacked again in the final 300 meters up the Alto del Naranco. The aggressive move knocked Nibali into second, and the Italian now finds himself 3 seconds behind with one last killer summit to go.

Horner has been rhapsodizing about his good legs for three weeks in Spain. He’s confident there are still a few hundred watts in them for Saturday. “They say the third time’s a charm so hopefully I have good legs tomorrow and can keep the jersey.  It’s so close and Nibali is a very good rider.”

While anything can happen on the insane grades of the Angliru, Nibali looks to be a beaten man — as beaten as you can be and still take a podium spot. Horner has consistently been the stronger, balder man on the big climbs and barring a sudden case of dead legs, Horner has in all likelihood won the Vuelta.

Then again, stranger things have happened — among them, a nearly 42 year old geezer winning a grand tour. And Horner knows the Angliru can destroy everybody and anybody.

Speaking of strange, the Gazzetta dello Sport finds Horner’s performance a little too amazing to be believed. They calculated his climb up Peña Cabarga at 6.83 watts/kg on the climb to the finish at Peña Cabarga.

That’s an average of 437 watts — numbers that will win you a grand tour whether you’re 21 or 41. That even beats the figures for Alberto Contador in his pre-steak con clenbuterol days when he was king of France.

However, that’s probably a newspaper guy with a stopwatch on the side of the road. Hard to say anything specific on their protocol. Published data from Horner’s SRM power meter on his solo stage ten win up the Hazallanas climb shows he produced 390 watts in the final 4.5km. That’s a difference of 47 watts compared to the Gazzetta numbers. So you make the call on that one.

Horner has been getting the Nibali in Giro, Froome in Tour treatment — how can he possibly be this good at his age, coming off a five month injury with minimal race preparation. Good, fair, honest questions.

From everything we’ve read about EPO micro-dosing, that is still going on to some measure. Without going into a long-winded and time consuming rationale, we think Horner doesn’t have the ability to organize his own doping program.

We also think it’s so hard and exhausting and complicated to organize one and keep it hidden that a guy like Horner — who’s always been a bit of an outsider –just doesn’t have the resources to accomplish that.

The Angliru awaits and Horner certainly isn’t to concerned about a climb that scares even the greatest climbers. “I can’t worry about tomorrow.  If I have the legs tomorrow and win, that’s great, but if that doesn’t happen I can still say it’s been a great Vuelta.  At my age I don’t lose sleep about being three seconds ahead or three seconds behind.  I’m used to disappointment as well as victory.  Clearly this would be the biggest victory of my career.  I’ve had big surprises in my life and to win here would certainly be a big one.”

One thing is for sure. If Chris Horner, known for his irrepressible smile, wins the Vuelta, you’ll witness the biggest grin he’s ever had.

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