Horner to Airgas-Safeway.
“I am very excited to be joining Airgas-Safeway for 2015,” said Chris Horner.
Sadly, that’s not a very exciting or maybe even believable statement. Now if Horner had said, “I’m very excited to be rejoining my friends at Trek Factory Racing” or “I’m very excited to ride for BMC and pass on my grand tour riding expertise to Tejay van Garderen” or “I’m goddamn thrilled to ride for free of any WorldTour squad just so I can ride some decent races,” well, that would ring more true.
Is riding for Airgas-Safeway better than retirement? This does not qualify as a farewell tour because nobody will see Horner except the fans who show up at races such as the Air Force Cycling Classic, Chris Thater Memorial Races and the Green Mountain Stage Race in Vermont — all events on the Airgas schedule for 2014.
Now sure, as a former winner of both the Tour of Utah and Tour of California, Horner will upgrade the chances of an invite. Who knows — maybe the team even squeaks into the US Pro Cycling Challenge. But make no mistake: this a development team — 16 young guys and old man Horner. It almost sounds like a Disney movie where the hard luck, sad sack youngsters at Airgas just can’t win a race until one magic day the balding Horner shows up as coach.
According to Horner — who rode for WorldTour outfits Lampre-Merida, Astana, Trek and RadioShack, the disappearing act is just fine with him. He’s no longer trying to repeat his overall victory at the Vuelta a Espana or win the Tour of the Basque Country. Nope, he is now mentoring.
“I have achieved a huge amount of success in my career and I’m incredibly proud of that. For me, the next chapter isn’t just about what I can do as an individual, but what I can give back to cycling as a sport,” said Horner. “I had a number of options for this year, and what really struck me about Airgas-Safeway was their utter commitment to giving the next generation of young riders the opportunity for success.”
That is a laudable goal and it sure sounds nice but read this quote from Airgas-Safeway team principle Chris Johnson and tell Twisted Spoke this doesn’t sound like a glorified fantasy camp. “To be able to give a group of young riders the chance to race with a champion like Horner is a dream come true on so many levels.”
You can already tell what’s going on by the choice of vocabulary — Airgas-Safeway is described as an “upstart” Continental squad. Yup, they’re underdogs, they’re feisty, they will nip at your Sidis. Compared to Airgas, even a squad like Smart-Stop sounds like Team Sky. It’s Chris Horner and his merry band of kids.
Sure, admittedly, that feels a bit harsh but seriously folks — is this the right way for Chris Horner to bow out? Is this his swan song, on a development team that got out of the United States just twice in 2014 — Mexico and South Africa? Fellow old man Jens Voigt went out with a year-long global lovefest and commemorative bikes and gear from Trek. What’s Horner get — extra discount coupons for any Safeway grocery store? Unlimited propane gas for life?
Well, Horner’s wife is having a baby in January so this year is clearly all about the kids. “Racing with excited young athletes fits well with my love of the sport, and it will be a great partnership to build for the future,” said Horner. “I look forward to sharing my racing and tactical experience to help the team race for the win at Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and many other races throughout the season.”
Okay, maybe we just have to take that statement on face value. Horner has said he’d like to coach and mentor and lead a team someday. That’s all well and good. We just can’t get over the shock and vertigo from the severe drop in altitude. If he wants to give back to the sport, then we should all applaud his efforts. If the Smiler insists he’s excited then who are we to calibrate his emotional state?
Still, we’re not too excited.