Everyone connected with road racing in the United States knows who Chris
Horner is. Easily the most dominant rider on the US domestic scene in recent
times, Horner has been racking up big wins with precision and astounding
predictability for many years, since he turned pro in the early Ď90ís with Nutra
A short list of Chrisí wins includes the Tour de Langkawi (2000), the
Redlands Bicycle Classic (four times - 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2004), the Sea Otter
Classic (twice - 2002, and 2004), the Tour de Georgia (2003), the T Mobile
International (2003), the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic (2002), along with numerous
stage victories in races such as the Tour Dupont, the Tour of the Gila, the
Cascade Classic, the tour of Connecticut, among others, and a slew of other
single day victories as well. Chris has over 50 wins to his credit as a pro, and
the list keeps getting bigger every year.
Starting out in San Diego, Chris raced regionally until he signed with Nutra
Fig in 1994, at the age of 22. He stayed with them for three years, eventually
hitting his stride in 1996, winning one of the Olympic Trials road races, a
stage of the Tour Dupont, the United Statesí premier event at the time, and most
importantly, according to him, a stage at Redlands, which catapulted him into
every teamís "most wanted" list.
After his successful 1996 season, Chris took a big step up, and signed the
dotted line for Marc Madiot and the D1 La Francaise des Jeux team, making France
his home base. Three very difficult and fruitless years followed, and he decided
to give an American team with European aspirations a go in 2000. This was John
Wordinís Mercury team.
Chrisí tenure at Mercury started off remarkably well, with a victory at the
prestigious Tour de Langkawi, and soon later another big win at Redlands. But
when the bottom infamously dropped out of the Mercury cycling team in 2001,
Chris landed with a young and promising team in 2002 - Prime Alliance - where he
picked up right where he left off before the Mercury fiasco - winning many
important races with an unassailable combination of tactical sense and raw
The 2003 season saw Chris joining forces with the Saturn "super team" that,
between himself, Tom Danielson, and Nathan OíNeill, won just about every race of
any importance on this side of the Atlantic that year.
Horner after his win at the 2003 T-Mobile Internatonal. Photo by
After the decision of Saturn to discontinue sponsoring a cycling team, the
talent dispersed amongst the US peloton much more evenly, and Chris made the
controversial decision to sign with a very new, very regional, and some thought,
very weak and inexperienced team - Webcor Builders. But his largely untested
teammates ended up coming through for Chris, and displayed a level of
professionalism that surprised many fans and fellow racers, stepping up their
game whenever the need arose.
But Chris didnít always want to stay racing in the US, and this fall, he
earned a special opportunity to ride for Saunier Duval - a D1 team last year and a
Pro Tour team this coming season. The waiting, the hard work, and the results
had all finally paid off - he was finally going back to the big leagues.
Seeking to sharpen his improving, post San Francisco Grand Prix form, Chris
headed to his long-time friend, Trent Klasnaís house for a final training camp
before traveling to the World Championships in Verona, Italy. And judging by his
result at that race, an incredible 8th place, the plan worked.
Parlaying his good form and former plans to sign a 2005 contract with Saunier
Duval into a present, rather than future, opportunity, Chris promptly signed and
started immediately with his new team. The US domestic season was over, and
there were a couple of World Cups left. Why not just jump in right away?
After a respectable pack finish at Paris-Tours on a parcourse that didnít
particularly suit his style, he narrowly missed a high finish at the prestigious
Milan-Turin classic, three days before the Tour of Lombardy, as his two man
break was caught 300 meters from the line. And at Lombardy, Chris again proved
that he was right where he belonged by finishing 11th - in the first chase
group - just 17 seconds off the five man winning break - the best American result at
Lombardy in years.
And now - the skyís the limit. This resident of Bend, Oregon, is making the
most of his new lease on a European cycling career, and weíll be hearing a lot
more about him in 2005 if my radar is working like it usually does. Keep your
eyes on Chris Horner this year, people - you wonít be disappointed.
Horner in yellow with the Redlands 2004 jersey-wearers. Photo by
Interview with Chris Horner
How did you get started in racing?
Well, I was working at a bike shop when I was 15, and I was down at the track
training, and I just kind of ran into a club there, and theyíre like, "Yeah,
come join the club and do a bike race." And I was like, "Yeah, all right."
Thatís kind of how I officially got started - I was just down at the track. I had
no idea how to get a license, or anything like that. I mean, without knowing
cyclists or having someone in the family who raced, you wouldnít actually know
how to race.
You wouldnít know the information to get started. I mean, nowadays, with the
computers, you could probably figure it out a lot easier, but back in the
day - this was around í87, or something like that - give or take a year. The
computers werenít there, so you didnít understand that you could race, day in
and day out.
Yeah, I started laughing when you said that you were working at the bike shop
when you were 15, because, weíre about the same age, and I got started the same
way at the same age.
(laughing) Yeah, itís really weird. You kind of just fall into it.
Yeah, and I got a road bike, a 10 speed at the time, when I was 13, for my
birthday, and I knew I wanted one. My birthday was coming up, so I asked my mom
for one and she got me one, and I always kept riding down to the same bike shop,
whenever I needed something, or just checking out bikes, or whatever. Then one
day the manager says, "Hey, you want a job here?" (laughter from both of us) Iím
Yeah, for me it was sort of like I was hanging out there so much that they
finally started paying me for it.
Yup, thatís what happened to me - exactly - I was hanging out there quite a bit,
and one day I was buying some shoes, and the guy was like, "Hey, you need some
work? You need a job?" And I was like, "I go to school - I canít have a job."
Because I was only 15 - I was under the impression that you couldnít even have a
job at 15.
I was like, "You canít have a job when youíre 15!" And he said, "Yeah, you
can!" And I was like HUH?" (laughter) I guess that there are some limitations on
what you can do, but you can definitely work at 15.
And thatís kind of nice too, because I was making just under 50 bucks a week,
and you got paid once a week, which was great - we got paid on Monday. So, it was
perfect - youíd start to run out of money after the weekend, you know - school
started again on Monday, Iíd collect my check, and whatever money I had left got
burned on the weekend!
You know, if you got paid on Friday, youíd just burn it on the weekend, and
you wouldnít have any money, Monday through Friday.
Basically, making any money at all when youíre 15 is great, right?
Oh yeah! You know how it is - you give a kid 10 or 15 bucks and thatís
something to do that day.
Yeah, it worked out nice - those were fun years.
Photo by Scott Schaffrick.
How did you get to the point from where you were racing locally on the track
to where you were racing on a national level? Did you race on the national level
as a junior at all?
Ah, no - not as a junior. I didnít even do that many races as a junior - probably
four or five races, and then a couple of track races - thatís about all. And then
at the end of the 1990 season - my last year in school - I started doing a couple
more races - it took about four races - but I got my upgrade, so I could be a Cat 2
for the í91 season. I was racing quite a bit in the í91 season, and from there
you just keep rolliní it through, basically.
The real reason I was able to turn pro is that I was working construction
once, at the end of the summer, and then all the jobs dried up in October. So
then I was on unemployment. By then I was 20 - so Iíd been working for 5 years - by
then I could collect unemployment. And after three months, there would have been
some work for the construction, but the form was starting to get pretty good (he
laughs), so I called the boss-man of the construction site, and I said, "Ah,
think Iím just gonna race my bike!" (we both crack up) So, truthfully, I turned
pro because of unemployment - so it is good for something!
Thatís a great story.
Yeah, well, it wasnít like I turned pro and started making money right away.
I was broke, and living off 20 bucks a week until I was 24 or 25, and I finally
started making some decent prize money around then.
Right - payiní your dues.
Oh, I paid dues - believe me! I had to go to races with no money to get my car
back home because I was out of gas. Iíd have to win gas money to get back home!
And at that same race, I probably floated the check to the promoter! So I
probably had to win to get the money so I could get back quick and put the money
in the bank! So it was doing whatever I could to get to the races.
I can also remember the times of taking a credit card - and during this time
you could get away with it - I noticed in the later years you couldnít - but in the
early years you could go buy something on your credit card - and I didnít have a
Visa or Mastercard, I had a department store card - and you could buy something on
your department store card and have your sister return it (we both crack up
again). Thatís how we would eat!
Yeah, you did whatever it took. We did stuff like that all the time. I had a
department store card and a gas card, so, between those two you could eat.
Because some gas stations actually sold milk and all of that kind of stuff - you
could get gas and milk. You just find ways to make it happen.
And itís funny, because I couldnít live off of that right now for a day!
The 2003 Tour de Georgia final podium: Rodriguez, Horner,
O'Neill. Photo by Jaime Nichols.
Yeah, the older you get, the more complicated your life gets.
And probably the more successful you get, the more complicated your life
So, what was that first big win that changed things for you?
The first big win that I can remember was at the USD [University of San Diego] Grand Prix. I want to
say that was in í91. That was the opening race in the season, but at that time
of the year, in San Diego, everybody was down there to race. The
Chevrolet-L.A. Sheriff team was there, Lance was there, Subaru-Montgomery, or
whatever they were called at the time, and Spago. There were a bunch of big guys
there when I won.
I was in a break of five, and it had Jim Copeland, and Brian, I want to say
his last name was Swank - he was in the break - and Jim Friar, and Trent Klasna were
in the break. It came down to a sprint between the five of us, and I ended up
winning. That was definitely my first big win. That was the first one when any
of the local teams would have went, "Whoooo - look at this guy!"
But I would say the big one - the one that really got everything started, was
in í96, when I won a stage at Redlands. That same year I went on to win a stage
at DuPont and one of the Olympic Trials races that year too.
So, you road for Nutra Fig that year, right?
Yup, I rode for Nutra Fig í94-í96. I did three years with them. And I had
results in í94 and í95, but nothing real big. I won a couple races at Superweek
in í95, I believe it was. You know - more the regional races.
Yeah, I remember that. I live in Wisconsin, and was there that year.
Oh yeah? I miss it. I havenít been back there since 1996. I keep wanting to
go back there, but by that time of the year Iím always so tired. And itís
funny - I never did Cascade, but now I do because I live right here. So, Iíve
always done Cascade, either coming off a break or going on a break right then.
Yeah, I love Bend. Itís a beautiful area.
Yeah, it is. I really like it up here. The training isnít really that good - I
mean for road riding. Itís good enough. It gets the job done. But Iím more
living up here because I love the area so much.
You know, originally I came up just because it was affordable, and all that
kind of stuff, and Iíd never seen it. But it was really easy to buy a house,
because, from day one, I liked the place, so itís been the same ever since.
Cool. Well, speaking of your early wins, can you put a finger on what your
biggest win to date is?
Well, the one I enjoyed the most was the Olympic Trials, and then
DuPont - those two together, probably. Biggest win . . . I donít know - maybe San
Francisco or Langkawi in 2000 was a big win too, because that was a 12 day stage
race with an international field.
Yeah, that was awesome.
Itís always hard to pinpoint one - I mean, biggest in terms of your career, or
biggest in terms of your agenda? Know what I mean?
Right - yeah.
In terms of my career, San Francisco would probably be the biggest, but it
didnít change my career any - my career was already there, and I was supposed to
win it. Know what I mean? Compare that to í96, when I won a stage at Redlands
and finished 2nd overall - thatís when people started saying, "Wow,
look at this guy. This guyís doing it at a national level." Because from the
moment I won that stage in í96, I had pro teams wanting to sign me. So, I would
say that win was the biggest for my career.
Right, and the thing I really liked about your win at Langkawi was that it
was after a couple of tough years.
Yeah (full-on laughter) - no, no - it was after three hard years!
(Laughing) I was trying to make it sound better!
Right - no, it was three really hard years without much results.
Totally - it must have felt so good to go to a big stage race and win.
Yeah, it really did - that, and it took a lot of pressure off of me, of course,
because I was already signed on the team as a team leader! And at that race, I
wasnít even supposed to be riding well yet, because I hadnít even trained for
it, or anything!
And, literally, if you would have asked anyone at training camp, I was
getting dropped - you know, holding onto the car. I was begging them not to take
me. I was almost demanding not to go. But I had to go, because I was on the
list, and it was too late to change it.
So, I get there. I didnít want to go to Langkawi. I get off the plane - itís a
21 hour flight - I can barely walk because my legs are so swollen, and stuff. I
just wanted nothing to do with that race.
You actually get to the island of Langkawi with about two to three days
before the race. As soon as you go on a ride and hear monkeys chirpiní off in
the jungle, and on the other side itís this deserted, beautiful beach - I was
like, "Wow, this is cool!" (we both laugh)
So, from then on my head changed completely. I was like, "Ya know what? This
is cool! Iím going to use this for some really good training and see what
I suffered a huge amount on the first three stages, but on the fourth stage - I
donít know how it happened - but the legs just opened up, and they were fantastic.
Thatís especially great when itís a surprise, right?
Well, the funny thing was that Floyd Landis was on the team with us, and he
was going exceptional! Heís from San Diego, and I didnít know Floyd that well at
the time, because he was a new teammate to me, but we had met up and done a big
group ride there that goes up the coast.
He was doing stuff on that ride that had me going, "WOW!" We had twelve guys
chasing him one day, and everyone blew but me and Axel Merckx! So, me and
Axel Merckx are chasing him down, full-gas, and we couldnít bring him back!
(We both laugh.)
Landis in the yellow jersey on Stage 1 of the 2000 Tour de
Photo courtesy Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi.
Yeah, I was like - "Wow, heís got good form!" Then we got over to training camp
in Simi Valley, and we had this other Swiss-French rider, Steve Zampieri, and he
and Floyd were just going at it every day in training camp.
So, when we got to Langkawi, Floyd won the Prologue, and he was race leader.
Then he lost it the next day, but to some non-climber, so we werenít really
worried about it.
During stage 6, then, I ended up getting into a really big break, and I
didnít even realize that I was race leader in it, so I wasnít even working at
first. Then the director came up, and said, "Youíre race leader, so you can work
if you want." I was like, "All right, letís do it!" I ended up having the jersey
Chris Horner in the leader's jersey at the start of Stage 12,
2000 Tour de Langkawi.
Photo courtesy Telekom Malaysia Tour de Langkawi.
I think stage 8 or stage 9 there was a crash about a k and a half from the
finish, and everyone knew that there was going to be a crash. Everyone knew that
you had to get to the front for this turn, and everything, so Iím fighting for
position left and right, making sure Iím at the front. As soon as we hit the
turn, everyone crashes, just like it always happens, and I managed to thread the
needle and just get through it. Only about 25 or 30 of us got through it and
made it to the line. Everyone else lost at least a minute. Some guys lost two,
and Floyd ended up being one of those guys who lost two. So, the commissaires
said that they were going to give everybody their time back if no one fought it.
Our director was Wordin, and he didnít want to fight it, because Floyd lost
two minutes. So I said, "Hey, I know what I was like at training camp, but Iíve
got different form now from what I had at training camp. I think you ought to
fight this, because I guarantee you that if you give me an extra minute over
everyone, Iíll win." But he didnít have any faith in me, and let it go, so they
gave everyone their time back.
But when we went up the Genting climb, I ended up dropping everyone but one
guy. There were a few guys up the road, but they were pretty far down on GC. I
ended up dropping everyone but the guy who was second on GC, and he stayed with
me all the way to the finish, so I ended up winning the race. But, I mean, the team had no faith at all in me, going into that race. It was
a nice victory - absolutely.
(Joking) So no hard feelings between you and Floyd?
(Laughing) No, no - not at all! We get along fine. In fact, I was hoping that
heíd come on Saunier Duval. When he had the whole fiasco with Phonak, they
[Saunier Duval] really wanted to sign him, because Beloki left. I was talking to
my agent, who is also Floydís agent, seeing if we could get him over too, but
heís staying with Phonak.
Stay tuned for Part Two...