The Smiler ain’t smiling no more.
After Vuelta winner Chris Horner’s late night tweet-rant, we’re reminded once again that pro cycling is a roller coaster. One moment you’re at the top of the summit with a grand tour overall victory, sucking down the bubbly Spanish cava and the next you’re without a contract and out of a job.
In recent years, even the fortunes of superstars like Fabian Cancellara, Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert have been characterized by the highest highs and lowest lows. Seasons wiped out by injury and sickness and bad luck. One moment you dominate, the next you’re wondering where the form went, if it’s ever coming back or if anybody will sign you again.
At nearly 42 years of age, Horner makes a dramatic case for the rags to riches and then no riches story. The oldest stage winner of a grand tour and then even more impressive (or suspicious if you’re Antoine Vayer) the oldest overall winner of a grand tour, Horner is still left wondering if he has a ride next season.
From 9:37 PM to just past midnight, Horner vented his frustrations and really for a nearly 42 year old athlete, midnight is way past his bedtime. Making repetitive use of the hashtag #didthat, Horner chronicled the many hardships on his long road to a Vuelta victory, growing increasingly irritated with every tweet.
Vincenzo Nibali, runner up in the Vuelta a Espana and winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, doesn’t have this problem but the Italian is only 28. Tour de France winner Chris Froome endured a relentless doping inquisition in France but he’s got his big contract at Sky and is also just 28. No retirement parties for them and no concerns that they’re suddenly going to fall apart physically.
Horner’s 42nd birthday is on October 23rd and he’d like to blow out all those candles knowing he’s got a contract that rewards him for his Vuelta win and for being one of the best (and most ancient) pure climbers in the sport.
The rider from Bend, Oregon is known for being tactically shrewd but the tweet-rant probably didn’t help his case. That said, it’s worth remembering that that Horner ran a successful public campaign to get himself on the Tour de France RadioShack roster two years ago and also skillfully pushed for inclusion on the US Olympic squad after being overlooked for his entire career.
In the end, the frustrated tweets were about what they’re always about in sports: respect and money, money being the currency of respect. Horner himself said the other day he could sign a contract in minutes, it’s just the pay cut he’d have to take and perhaps the smaller role he’d play.
He wants Vuelta money or at the very least super climber domestique for Andy Schleck money. (Maybe he should talk to Russian billionaire Oleg Tinkof about starting a new venture.)
It sounds ludicrous to say but Horner picked a bad time to win a grand tour. With three WorldTour squads folding this year and the global economy still in difficulty, there’s a glut of riders looking for work and the musical chair game ended over a month ago.
Everything had to go right for Chris Horner to win the Vuelta a Espana. It seems he’ll need an equally fortunate set of circumstances to score a big contract so late in the season. Horner would sure like to tweet “Fat new contract! #didthat”