Final thought on old man Chris Horner winning the Vuelta six weeks before his 42nd birthday: what if the suspicions are true?
After Horner won two stages and jumped into the red leader’s jersey, the cycling world percolated with the usual rumor and performance-disbelief. How could a guy this old, coming off five months of injury and rehab, with almost no race prep and racing against guys like Vincenzo Nibali, win a grand tour?
It was the geriatric version of the grilling Nibali himself received after dominating the Giro d’Italia and Chris Froome endured in destroying his rivals in the Tour de France.
So what if we admit that the doping questions were in fact right on the mark? What if Chris Horner’s win represents the strongest proof yet that the peloton is cleaner than its been in decades?
Instead of scrutinizing Horner’s SRM files and guessing about his weight and debating what Gazzetta dello Sport’s rented experts have to say about his VAM, what if we flip the scenario from disbelief to a stronger belief than ever?
When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France, it was proof a clean rider would win the most demanding endurance event in sports. When Ryder Hesjedal, riding for a Garmin-Sharp squad with a proactive and visionary anti-doping program, won last year’s Giro, it was more evidence that the dope culture had fundamentally changed for the better.
Those two facts went a long way to convincing everyone — riders, team managers and sponsors — that it was possible for clean riders to win at the highest level and that the peloton was back to moving at one vitesse, not deux.
But what stronger argument can be made for clean cycling than RadioShack’s old man Chris Horner winning the Vuelta a Espana? A hundred things had to come together perfectly for Horner — ideal course, fresh legs, Tour and Giro-weary rivals, no crashes — for him to win. The other factor in his favor was that he wasn’t going up against a bunch of juiced riders.
It was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime ride by Horner, three weeks in the zone, nothing but good fortune and a super motivated team behind him. He pulled off the long shot, a dark-horse victory, an odds-crushing triumph that nobody predicted. And while we’re at it — the French taking four stages in Spain? More proof than clean riders are not just attacking, but winning.
We’d all be stupid and naive to think that micro-dosing of EPO has disappeared or that riders aren’t resorting to other methods to gain a small edge. I can’t say for sure that Chris Horner won the Vuelta on bread and water and a few gels.
But right now, from this distance, maybe what we just saw in Spain was a Vuelta clean enough that a guy who’s almost 42 can win. That’s pretty cool and amazing.