Last season American Chris Horner discovered the ideal strategy for winning the Vuelta a Espana.
The 42 year old was plagued by injury early in the year but came back late to perform well — second overall in the Tour of Utah — before surprising tired rivals like Vincenzo Nibali in the Vuelta a Espana.
The template? Use injury to cross out most of the race calendar, rest the aging body, come back fresh in August when everybody else is leg-weary, win grand tour.
Twisted Spoke believes the oldest man to ever win a grand tour has already put that same plan into action again as he looks to defend his Spanish title against even higher odds.
While local authorities claim that Horner was seriously injured in a collision with a car in a tunnel near Lake Como, there’s little question that the wily veteran is faking injury to once again fool his opponents in the Vuelta.
The fact is, nobody actually witnessed the accident in the tunnel and while a photo of a bandaged Horner laying in an Italian hospital bed was impressive, that kind of charade is easy to create.
Horner is known throughout the pro peloton as one of the most astute tacticians in cycling. Nearing the end of his long career, he must now rely on his experience and guile — especially the guile.
It seems obvious that Horner’s Dos Vueltas campaign has already been set in motion. It began when Horner insisted that his tendonitis was flaring up again, forcing him to abandon Tirreno-Adriatico and cancel his participation in the Tour of the Basque Country.
That was Phase One, but Horner quickly moved to Phase Two, the so-called Como Tunnel scam. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see just how easy this plays out. Horner is met by wife at the entrance of the tunnel. They wait until there’s no traffic or witnesses, then she runs over Horner’s bike with a rental car. A quick application of fake blood available at any costume or prop store and then a dramatic call to Lampre-Merida headquarters. “It’s bad,” says Chris.
Then it’s a simple matter of faking the hospital shot. How hard is it to rental a folding metal bed, a doctor’s white coat and roping in a friend to play the concerned physician for one photo?
Things sound terrible for Horner, right? He’s got four broken ribs, a punctured lung, he won’t even leave the hospital for a week. Giro d’Italia already out the window, entire season in disarray, season on brink.
That’s the story the media told the entire world and nothing could be farther from the truth.
Make no mistake: this is just what Chris Horner wants. The man nicknamed the Smiler has a fat grin on his face because the Vuelta Dos deception has gone off without a single hitch.
Now, it’s a simple waiting game, played far off the radar of journalists, rivals and team officials. Horner will be forgotten as the Ardennes classics and the fast-approaching Giro d’Italia take over the cycling news. Slowly and quietly, Horner will begin his build away from prying eyes.
The old man knows how to win bike races and he also knows exactly what his creaky body can tolerate. A long, brutal calendar of races that grind him into the pavement and break his body is not the way he astounds the cycling world again with a second, improbable Vuelta victory.
Horner knows he has one shot and one shot only. He must arrive fresher than everyone else and with dark horse written all over his chances. He must remain invisible until the last possible moment and then strike like a starved jackal on a newborn deer.
Those who will discount Horner in the Vuelta do so at their peril. Horner has implemented the Vuelta Dos Deception and his smile is deadly.