What a long strange trip from Spain its been.
Since his historic and improbable overall victory in the 2013 Vuelta a Espana, American Chris Horner has been searching for a new team.
That’s about five months of stress watching your salary demands shrink, your options evaporate and even that famous Horner smile disappear.
The job search now has a happy WorldTour ending with Horner signing for the Lampre-Merida-Mantova squad. They’ll give him a shot at riding the Giro d’Italia and defending his Vuelta crown and that is sweet, indeed.
He can crack open a bottle of fine Spanish cava and order a few rounds of tapas flown in direct from San Sebastian. The celebration is on and the 42 year old can rejoin Jens Voigt as the elder statement of the pro peloton.
Everybody is happy for Horner except for perhaps Levi Leipheimer who is probably still mad about what happened on the Sierra Road stage in the 2011 Tour of California when Horner decided he was the team captain, not Levi.
Horner knows his body pretty well at this advanced age and the man loves to train so it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s in good shape for the Giro. Maybe he can even give his old Lotto teammate Cadel Evans a fight. We’re not ready to make any wild predictions but we can already put him in the dark-horse category just for grins.
It will be amusing to watch Horner order Damiano Cunego around in the Giro d’Italia. “Hey, little prince, cover that move, hey, little prince, grab that wheel, hey, little prince, I’m thirsty.”
Horner seems to have a knock of beating the odds. A few years back he was crashing so many times that really, it looked like it was time to retire and heal up once and for all. Like in a retirement home.
He got past that, won the Tour of California and went to Le Tour with high hopes. Then he crashed on the flattest stage of the race, limping to the finish with a concussion and no idea whether he was in Chateauroux, France or Bend, Oregon.
That, however, was just another stage in a long and illustrious career. He put his creaky body back on the bike, dealt with more injury and missed most the the 2013 season before putting together a statistically improbable victory in the Vuelta that brought out the skeptics. How could a geezer beat Giro winner Vinceno Nibali in his prime?
The alleged Rider #15 in the redacted USADA report had to release some power files to placate the critics but you know how that goes — one expert says normal, another says abnormal and the debate never ends.
Speaking of doping (or not doping), Horner joins the Lampre-Merida squad that still has the glacial Mantova doping investigation hanging over it. Hanging for what — three or four years? We’ve heard excepts of the wire taps for what seems like forever ago. (For our eight point How-To on creating your own fake doping investigation, read here.)
It’s like everybody knows the Mantova story but the Italian judge. (Just wait until former Giro boss Michele Acquarone discovers how long it will take the Italian justice system to clear his name. His kids will be on bread and water by that time and the heat turned off in the house.)
In any case, we’re looking forward to hearing Horner’s prognostications on his form and Giro possibilities. The man is a straight shooter when it comes to his chances in a race. He told everybody who would listen that he was serious about winning the 2013 Vuelta and had the form to beat Nibali. Not many took him seriously until it was too late to catch up.
Welcome to Italy, Chris. It’s good have to have Smiler back in action.