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Interview: American Veteran Cyclist Chris Horner
 
By Luke Allingham
Date: 8/9/2012
Interview: American Veteran Cyclist Chris Horner
 
American veteran cyclist Chris Horner has already has had a great career including results such as a top ten place overall at the Tour de France, several champion titles in the USA Cycling National Racing Calender and many more victories to his name, although he has already had a long career, which first began in 1997 with team Française des Jeux, he is still pushing hard at 40 years old.

At the age of 40 in 2012, Horner has placed 2nd overall at Tirreno–Adriatico, 8th overall at the Amgen Tour of California and 13th overall at the Tour de France. To add to his 2012 season, USA Cycling selected him as one of the five Team USA cyclists that would ride in the 2012 London Olympic road race. The 2012 London Olympic Games was his first appearance at the Olympics in his career.

We caught up with Chris after stage 1 of the 2012 Tour of Utah, where he hunts for overall victory and returns to the United States for Tour of Utah and USA Pro Cycling Challenge.


Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek). Photo © RadioShack-Nissan-Trek

Luke Allingham- Hi Chris, how are you? How is the 2012 Tour of Utah going?

Chris Horner: Yeah, Utah is good. The altitude is a little bit different and certainly the heat is a little bit stranger than we're used to. The last climb today was a little more difficult than I usually like, but passing over the climb didn't seem to be too much of a problem; just a little harder than it normally should be for a group that size.

Luke- Can you please tell our readers how you got interested and involved in cycling? How old were you when you first began cycling?

Chris:Thirteen when I first began cycling; my mom got me a bike for my birthday.

Luke- You recently raced the Tour de France, where you placed 13th overall, run us through those three weeks at the Tour de France. How do you feel about your 13th place overall at 40 years old?

Chris: Well, I think the 13th was really good, because that wasn't what I was focusing on at all and at no point in time was I really focusing on the G.C. with Team Classification, Fabian's yellow jersey, helping Haimar (Zubeldia), (Andreas) Kloden and Frank (Schleck) and that kind of stuff throughout the race, so I think it was one of my better performances at the Tour de France .

Luke- Your team, RadioShack-Nissan, won the Team Classification at this year's Tour as well; was that a main goal for the team going into the Tour? What was it like for you to win the Team Classification again after winning it with RadioShack in 2010?

Chris: Well, the main goal of course was starting with the prologue, because we had Fabian (Cancellara) there, so we thought that there was a good shot that we could win the prologue and that would get us the jersey, so the main goal after Fabian won was to protect the yellow jersey; that was goal number one for sure.

The Team Classification more came on after we realize we had it and we had through half of the Tour de France with some pretty good times in the Team Classification, so that's when we really started to focus on it. Certainly the last week of the Tour it became a pretty big objective, because we knew we would be on the podium for it. Both times I've been on the podium, the one year with Lance (Armstrong) of course was special; it's not often you get on the podium with Lance Armstrong sitting next to you. This year was quite special, because we just had, both years were difficult to win to win and stuff like that. I would say they're much the same in terms of where they go against each other; I can't place one higher than the other, both had their special moments to get the job done.

Luke- Was there a certain stage in this year's Tour that you would name the most difficult or most challenging

Chris: For me, the first mountain stage was the most difficult, the one where we went to the Col du Colombier. It was the first big mountain that we passed in the Tour. I had some bike problems where I had to do a lot of the mountain in the big chain ring, so that wasn't too pleasant, it put me in a bad spot. That was probably one of the more difficult times. There were some other stages where of course I had suffered as much, but yet I finishing in a group of seven or a group of five or something like that going over the top, so it is a little bit more acceptable to be that uncomfortable if you're in a group of five or seven than it is when you're in a group of twenty-five like I was on the first mountain stage.

Luke- At 40 years old you were selected for your first career Olympics this year; what was that experience like for you and the rest of Team USA?

Chris: That was really cool. It is always a pleasure to be in USA jerseys representing your country, I really think the experience itself of being that and being part of the race and seeing the size of the crowds and all that stuff; you really just have to suck it in and realize where you're at and enjoy the moment.


Chris Horner in USA colors at the 2003 World Championships.

Luke- Team USA just missed out on an Olympic medal in the road race with Taylor Phinney sprinting to a 4th place; was that considered an accomplishment by you and the other Team USA riders or a disappointment that you missed out on a medal?

Chris: I think it was a huge accomplishment for the five of us. You look at Phinney, he's a young kid, we went in there with Phinney young, Tejay (van Garderen) is young, right there we're still on the younger side. Timmy Duggan is still under thirty and then we go in with myself, who is turning 41 soon, so I think it was a huge accomplishment when you look at how well we represented the U.S in the front break, in the field with a possibility for a field sprint and of course the possibility of getting a gold medal with Phinney and Tejay and Timmy Duggan up there.If you really look at the team, it was fabulous how well the five of us got along.

Luke- At the beginning of 2012 RadioShack and Leopard-Trek merged to form RadioShack-Nissan-Trek. How has it been to race on the same team with the Schlecks, Cancellara, etc.?

Chris: The Schleck brothers are top notch, just really fantastic guys. I got to do Pais Vasco with Frank and of course Frank and Andy both had the Classics with Amstel, Fleche and Liege, so certainly in my career I already know those guys, I've been racing against them my whole time since 2005 I've been back in Europe, so I'm very familiar with both, but it's the time off the bike in the hotel where I'm not familiar with them, this year I got that experience with them and they are top notch guys on and off the bike. I enjoyed my time racing with the Leopard guys.

Luke- Are you satisfied with your season so far with RadioShack-Nissan?

Chris: It has been a very good season. I wouldn't mind a little more luck this way or that way would have been nice. Tirreno-Adriatico going a little bit different way, California minus one bad time trial would have been a fantastic Tour of California, so I have a bit of bad luck here and there, but in general I would say my season has gone very well.

Luke- In the past several months that has been lots of talk in the media about RadioShack-Nissan in regards to the Schlecks, Johan Bruyneel, missed payments, etc. How do you react to seeing all these reports in the media constantly?

Chris: I just do my job, man. My checks are showing up and I'm getting paid and we're professional cyclists so that's what they pay me to do. At some point in time you just have to try and push some of the other stuff out and just do your job. Certainly at my age I am used to some distractions throughout the team and stuff like that, but my check is here, I have never been not paid a month yet so it has always been good there. Everything is someone else problems, it's not mine.

Luke- Jens Voigt has spoken out recently, saying that the problems at RadioShack-Nissan should not be shared with the press and published in the press. Do you agree that these problems at RadioShack should be kept within the team?

Chris: I haven't even read his comments so I am not going to make a comment on something that I haven't read myself and then I haven't talked to him so certainly I know that he said something and it got written in the press, I don't know if it got written the same way that he said it so I don't have a comment on what he said.

Luke- During your career you have raced with multiple teams; if you had to choose one - which team would you say you enjoyed racing for the most?

Chris: Difficult, almost impossible to say really. It has just been so many different teams and each team has their different little special memory. I could take you all the way back to my career where I was racing with Française des Jeux and had three really, difficult years, but even then I had really good moments during those three years too. At Mercury we had a bunch of good guys; off the bike: we jelled really good, on the bike: the guys didn't even have to talk to each other; we always knew what to do, we always did it and always executed it perfectly - we won one-hundred and something races that year.

Horner SaturnHorner has raced with numerous teams throughout his career.

Then, I go on with Prime Alliance, which was a very, very young team. I was the oldest guy on the team and I was only thirty. We had some really good moments there just racing with the young guys, so I could go on and on with every year. Every year has something special, it would probably be easier to say which team and which year I didn't like and then it would be the easiest to say the second year of Mercury where they didn't pay us and we had all the drama of not getting paid and that kind of stuff. Even that eventually gets itself worked out, there is just no way I can answer that. There are just way too many good teams I've been on. Every team has its huge moments of pleasure and some teams have its difficulties, but I haven't been on a team yet that I haven't enjoyed myself on.

Luke- In 2011, you appeared to be on very good form after winning the Tour of California, however, at the Tour de France you crashed out and had to end your season due to results of the crash and medical problems. What do you remember about that Tour crash and Tour stage?

Chris: Nope. I don't remember anything from the crash, it's gone. Literally gone. The night before is gone, the day of the crash is gone, the night at the hospital is gone. I don't remember anything except for the stage before and not when I woke up, because when I woke up I was still not there mentally, but when finally the light bulb turned on the next morning in the head, that's where I remember, but I don't remember anything before that. It's about a day and a half that is still gone.

Luke- What was your recovery process from the crash at the Tour and the other injuries you suffered towards the end of the 2011 season?

Chris: The recovery process was seven months so, the recovery process was don't race your bike for a solid seven months or eight months and train good, but certainly don't hit your head again. I had a severe concussion, so it wasn't an option to hit your head again and I had a blood clot that clasped my lung, so I was on blood thinners and if I would have hit my head again I probably would have died, but asides from not racing my bike, I could still train, but there was a risk, a very big risk to train, because if I were to crash it was quite possibly because of the blood thinners than you wouldn't make it back home, but I'm a professional rider, so you need to train, but certainly you don't need to race your bike. The recovery process was eight months.

Luke- Is there a specific race that you dream of winning before your retirement from professional cycling?

Chris: Oh, there are a lot of races. Certainly something in the Tour de France would be fantastic to pull home before I retire. The Classics, the one day Classics: Amstel, Fleche, Leige, those are beautiful races. Another win at California or Colorado would be something always welcome.

The beautiful thing about my career is that I've reached an age now and I have the results now that I can really pick and choose the races that I do so most of the races I do are quite big. At Utah now, this is the smallest race that I have done all year. It's the first time that I have been at an event where it is like: "Oh wow", its a smaller bike race instead of California, instead of Basque Country, instead of Amstel, Fleche, Liege, Tour de France, Tour of California. Every race I do is packed with quality, so if I can win some more during the season then I am going to be a pretty happy man when I retire.


Chris finished 8th overall at this year's Tour of California. Photo © Jim Adams

Luke- How many more years can cycling fans expect to see you racing at the top level of cycling? After your retirement do you plan to continue in the sport as a team director or race commentator, possibly?

Chris: Its quite a possibility that I stay in the sport, I certainly appreciate the sport and what it has given me, I really enjoy it, but those doors have to open up for you, so I can't really answer the question - I don't know if those doors will open up. If they do and somebody asks if I can do commentating on the Tour de France or something like that, then you have to weigh that with that you have to pay your bills at home. I have three kids and some houses and stuff like that I have to take care of, so it really depends on the financial ability too. It's no longer at my age that you have the ability to just do whatever you want, that kind of went out the window with my first kid, but I enjoy the sport, I would love to stay in the sport when I am done and would certainly have no plans on retiring until my head leaves the sport, so I'll probably stay here in the sport racing as long as my legs can do it.

Luke- Other than English, what languages do you speak fluently, if any?

Chris: (Laughs) I don't speak any language fluently. I barely speak English fluently.

Luke- What hobbies do you enjoy while not racing the bike?

Chris: I have three kids, they keep me busy and they have their sports. We have motorcycles at the house - the kids go out on the motorcycles and I grab one of the small ones and cruise around with them and stuff, they keep me busy. My boy plays some baseball, so playing catch in the front yard with him is always a fun thing to do with him.

Luke- What advice would you give to an amateur cyclist who wants to become professional in their life?

Chris: Oh, that's a good one, but it's a difficult one too, because there are a lot of things you can tell an amateur cyclist. The main thing is - you've just really have to enjoy what you do, I couldn't imagine doing this job if you didn't enjoy it. It would be a very, very difficult job to do mentally if you weren't enjoying riding your bike.

Luke- Do you know yet where you will be racing next year? Will you be racing with RadioShack again

Chris: I have a two year contract here.

Luke- Final Question: Is there anyone that you would like to thank that helped you get to the point in your professional career that you are at today?

Chris: (Laughs) That's an endless list, I don't think you guys would print it. There have been endless sponsors, directly of course - my sister is older than me, but she's the youngest of the three in helping making everything happen. My mom played a part, my other sisters and brothers have of course played a part in helping me become professional. My wife is absolutely legendary, just taking so much of the burden off me in terms of the paperwork, the press stuff, getting me so I can go out and train all day and just help out with the kids and stuff like that.

Horner webcoreHorner during his days at Webor Builders.

The list goes on and on, but I've had tons of sponsors too that along the way. I mean, you look at Webcor, in the team that Saturn left the sport, I was looking for a team late and Andy Ball from Webcor hired me to come on as part of a small pro tour team and we had a fantastic year and won everything that year. That was a huge sponsor and huge moment in my career to keep to continue riding my bike and also with Webcor, it was amazing because at the end of the season, when the season had finished in the U.S and I went and did the World Championships in October, there was no more racing for us to do in the U.S and Webcor actually released me from their contract two months early so I could go race with Saunier-Duval, which is almost unheard of. I've never heard of a pro team releasing another rider after they had payed me for the whole twelve months and they still released me to go race with Saunier-Duval for two months while they were paying me, that's beyond legendary. If you think about it - it is beyond legendary, it's unheard of. Hats off to the Webcor sponsors and Andy Ball - it was really a great team.

Follow Chris on his Twitter page and website


About the Author: Luke Allingham is an amateur bicycle athlete residing in Chicago, Illinois who continues to hone his skills despite entering his first year of high school in the coming year. He is a contributor to The Daily Peloton Cycling News covering men's professional cycling and interviewing bicycle racers from around the world.


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