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Chris Horner, ready for his third Tour de France
 
By Lyne Lamoureux
Date: 7/8/2007
Chris Horner, ready for his third Tour de France
 

American Chris Horner is coming off a strong start of his 2007 season with a two third-place finishes at the Tour de Romandie leading up to getting the yellow jersey after stage 4 in May which he had to relinquish on the next stage. He had a solid showing and a second-place finish at a stage at the Tour de Suisse in his final preparation before The Tour de France.

Horner is ready for "the grand daddy, it's the big show, the Tour is everything it's made to be and when you are here, it is the only place you want to be."

Horner is still excited about starting his third Tour, the second with the Professional Cycling Team Predictor-Lotto, and still has butterflies before the start.

"The crowds are fantastic, the ambiance of the race is fantastic, it's everything that everyone has made it out to be. The first year that I did it I was ready for a little bit of a letdown and it was bigger than I'd been told, normally when someone tells you a story and describes something they are a little bit off but nobody is off when it comes to the Tour."

For Horner, transfers and not enough time between races drive him made at the Tour. But for him, one inhibitor in terms of seeing some really exciting racing are the bonuses paid out to top ten finishers at the Tour. "If the first place's team isn't strong enough to control it, and the third place guy goes up the road, the second place placed guy puts his team on the front just to protect second."

"That is a real problem that I think cycling has, something in terms of what might make the sport even more enjoyable to watch. Guys are willing to protect second, they are willing to protect third, they are willing to protect fourth, they are willing to protect fifth. When guys stopped being willing to protect anything but first then you would see some really exciting bike racing."

His form and preparation

When asked about his form "I hope it's fantastic but I don't really know. Coming from (Tour de) Suisse was a really exhausting race, more so than I wanted it to be but that race is very difficult. "

He followed that June stage race with one rest day, two long training rides interspaced in some easy days before arriving in London three days before the prologue.

"So I'm hoping that the training that I did before and during Suisse comes right back into my legs after a few days of racing, it might take two or three days, if the legs are little blocked and hopefully I'll come really good. "

"I know that I'm fresh at the moment, but I just hope I'm not too fresh." Horner continued with a soft chuckle. "There is a point when you recover, recover, recover and become one hundred percent recovered. And it's difficult to feel the difference between one hundred percent recovered and ... all of the sudden you're no longer one hundred percent recovered with good form now you're one hundred percent recovered but your good form starts going the opposite way."

"I honestly I believe I've done everything one hundred percent correct for me. I did Tour of Suisse, it worked good, I did the right amount of rest versus the right amount of training and coming here with the right amount of motivation and I think the form, I believe at this moment, that the form is going to be fantastic."

Horner did not reconnoiter any of the stages as he prefers to spend his free time with his kids and girlfriend in the United States. "To go find two extra weeks out of the year to go see the stages for a guy that is really not looking at winning the Tour de France but just looking to be there all the way until the last climb, well I don't really need to see it."

Checking out the stages "would help, I would love it. Unless I was willing to give up fourteen days of racing which I'm not, the team is not willing to give me that either, and I don't have the room for it, it just can't be done. In the magical world of very rich salary world, I could make it happen, that kind of money I don't make and that kind of time I don't have."

His objectives at the Tour de France are simple

Horner's top objective as the Tour is to help Cadel Evans whom Horner sees finishing top 5, possibly with a podium this year and "there is not doubt about it, that is why I was brought on the team."

Of course, if required he will assist sprinter Robbie McEwen out if the situation calls for it, but he doesn't think that any situation needed his skills will happen during the first week. "There would be no reason for me to be in the front to help Robbie out, because not only does our team want the sprint, but five other teams want the sprint."

"There are plenty of teams that want the sprint in the first week. On top of those teams wanting the sprint, the GC guys don't want to give anyone 10 minutes, because they don't know for sure if whoever they give 10 minutes to has really good form and they can't give it back."

"So those combinations make it that one more rider like me one the front won't make a difference between catching a break or not, so realistically I don't see any reason why I should be at the front this whole first week."

His foresees his 'real' work starting on stage 7 where he will have to "be there for Cadel on the last climb" and then the short and very difficult stage 8, the second Alpine stage of the Tour de France. "And then afterwards, we'll see how Cadel is riding, how I am riding, how the team is riding."

In summary, "the first objective is Cadel, the second objective would be Robbie in the second or third week if he would need some help here or there, maybe defending the green jersey if we have it."

"The third objective if I'm in a group with Cadel, we come down with twenty kilometers left, with a bunch of mountain passes, and with guys are attacking, and I cover the right move, then there is an opportunity to win the stage," said Horner about the scenario of going for a stage win, "but that's the third, fourth or fifth objective, not first or second."

Tour de France contenders, rivals and potential surprises

The Predictor-Lotto main General Classification contender Australian Cadel Evans finished second at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré on his last race before La Grande Boucle, and according to Horner, Evans' form is "fantastic".

"I've spent a lot time with Cadel, this year and last year, and he looks really good, he's confident, he's lean, I'm sure he's motivated, there's no other race he gets up for more than this one."

There were no surprises on the list of favorites for Horner, "the favorites are pretty simple and are on everyone's list, and certainly Cadel is on the top three of my picks. Vinokourov, and the Astana team have two or three favorites on their team to win it."

"There is just a wide open tour I think of who can win it. Specifically it's because I believe the teams don't have the strength and depth that they once used to have."

After thinking a second when I asked him if he foresees any riders surprising the field and "the only rider that will pop up could be Michael Rasmussen" with most if not all of the strong time trialists missing from this edition of the race. "Someone like that I'm not putting him down as my favorite but...."

"If you were to give Rasmussen a little bit of room that could come back to haunt you if he has the same kind of form that he showed that he can have in years past."

"He can do a lot of damage if you let him get a little bit of time on you, say like two years ago and they gave four or five minutes, and he was sitting second or third on GC", sandwiched between two very strong time trialists that did bring back a lot of time on Rasmussen.

Current situation in the peloton

Our discussion did turn to the doping scandals, and Horner wants the UCI and the other organizations involved to continue with all the doping controls but wishes that the actions were done in a more business-conscious manner.

"The UCI needs to continue in the exact same matter that they are handling things as right now, making as much as progress as they can in the controls, catching the cheats, and do as much as they can to limit the ability of riders to cheat." He continued "but I think that any business would look at cycling and say this is how you don't run a company."

"I really think that they are making a difference, but I don't think they've done anything to make a difference in the people's eyes, even positive thing that they have done, the letter (riders' agreement) that they sent to all the riders to sign, it gets spun off in the press as more of a negative thing."

Horner has seen a difference "in just the racing is going and speed and all that." For him, the facts are undeniable when "you look at a finish, somehow, something has changed. There is definitely a problem but the cyclists are trying to do their part as best as they can."

Horner remembers watching a 250-km stage of the Giro d'Italia, " which is enormously long stage to begin with in my belief", and nine riders escaped, rode at the front all day long and a group of about seven riders finished together after five or six mountain passes. "You don't see that anymore, that is not possible."

"What you are seeing now, you get to the last stage, the last climb of a mountain, the leader has one guy with him maybe two, the best case scenario is three guys from one team left in the final group and that is what I see which is telling me things have changed."

"Something is being done in a positive manner, cycling is doing everything it can, the spectators, the sport fans, sport fans of any sport and that of course expands to cycling need to actually appreciate what cycling is trying to do in terms of how much information they are given out there."

Horner was very clear about his feelings for his beloved sport, "I want as much control as you can possibly have in the sport, but I want the sport to grow, I want the sport to live, I want the sport to have sponsorship dollars, I want to do the Tour de France, I want to do World Cup races, I want a huge crowd, I want people to enjoy watching cycling too."

Still loving racing?

"Absolutely I'm still having fun." when asked if he still loved racing at the 'old-age' of thirty-five.

Horner's contract terminates at the end of 2007 and he hopes to sign a two-year deal with a team. "I won't comment on going any further than two more years, at this point and time, certainly I'm having one of the better years in my career, so I don't think it's going to taper much by next year so certainly two more years, then I'll decide if I want to go further."

The ever-smiling Horner is ready and excited to tackle another Tour de France and "it will be an exciting year", so good luck and keep us up to date.


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