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Chris Horner: Back to the Big Leagues - Part Two
 
By Charlie Melk
Date: 12/29/2004
Chris Horner: Back to the Big Leagues - Part Two
 

Read Part One of this interview here.

Howíd you get hooked up with Saunier Duval?

Chris Horner at the US Olympic Trials.
Photo by Janna Trevisanut.
Ah, that was the work of a lot of guys. My agent, Michael Rutherford, was calling them a lot. Also, Scott Montgomery, from Scott USA, ran into me at the San Francisco Grand Prix this year. We had a talk, and he was really motivated to put in a good word for me to get onto the team too. And I know Mauro Gianetti from the La Francaise des Jeux days too, but I donít know if that helped or hurt. (Laughs) I mean, of course, heíd know my personality, and heíd know Iím a pretty good guy, but, in terms of getting results, he wouldnít have seen a lot of that with me at Francaise de Jeux, so I donít know if that actually helped or hurt the whole situation. So, those were three angles right there.

Also, Prodir, which is a secondary sponsor with Saunier Duval, saw me racing at the New York race. So they were fighting for me. Also, my teammate from Webcor, Imanol [Ayestaran], is really good friends with the Spanish director. So he was calling on my behalf! (Laughs) It was a lot of coming together.

It was weird. Last year I had this feeling that Iíd be riding for ONCE. Of course, nothing came of that - I ended up riding for Webcor. But a year later, Iím riding with Saunier Duval now, which, of course, is not ONCE, but the colors are the same! (We both laugh) It must have been a premonition - I got the names mixed up, but the colors are the same.

Yeah, this fall, when it became public knowledge that you had signed with Saunier Duval, I was totally, and happily, surprised to see you riding some World Cup races for them already.

Yeah, it was funny - of course, after San Francisco, I was like, "All right, the form is there! Itís not at its absolute best, but itís pretty good. Iíve got three more weeks to sharpen it up." So, I went back to Trent Klasnaís place and did some more hard training at his house. You know, he was super.

Heís not training anymore, so I was going out training by myself, but he was getting up in the morning with me, and doing breakfast together. A couple times, he motor-paced me, which was ideal, because before the world Championships, the only race I had done in seven weeks was San Francisco. And if you look at the results from Worlds, all of those guys just came from the Vuelta. I donít think that there was one guy in that break, besides me, that didnít come from the Vuelta - and I hadnít raced in thee weeks, and had only done one race in seven weeks.

That was a pretty big block of no racing, and I think Klasna was a big, big help, if not the difference, in terms of getting that result I got versus not getting it. Because he had me out motor pacing twice the last week before I went, and one of those days, we did 85 miles behind the motor. And we just did it FULL-GAS! By the time I got done behind the motor, I could barely hold my arms up (we both laugh). So, that was a HELLL day, let me tell you, but it was amazing to have that kind of help. You really need a good friend to put up with . . . I mean, Iíd been at his house for TWO MONTHS! I was staying at his house, he was motor pacing me and taking care of me and everything. So, thatís a good friend.

So, as far as your races this coming year go - do you know your program at all yet?

Well, so far - Mallorca, Ruta del Sol, Tirreno-Adriatico, and some other one day races in there that Iím not really familiar with yet, because Iím not really familiar with the one day races in Spain. After Tirreno-Adriatico, they have me going up to do Flanders. And they also want me to do Paris-Roubaix, which I wasnít too keyed up on, but if the formís good, Iíll go do it. Itís just a really dangerous race. You better be 100% motivated for that race, otherwise thereís no reason to be there.

I kind of put that race down with going out and riding your motocross bike. You know, I like to do it, and sometimes I do, but I try to avoid it (laughs).

Right.

Yeah, and donít get me wrong - I would love to do Paris-Roubaix, but Iím not in a situation where I can break something and can afford to miss a whole season.

Exactly - what about Flanders - are you excited about that?

Oh yeah - Iíd love to do Flanders! Let me tell you, though - thereís a huge difference between Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. Theyíre not even close to the same. In one, the cobbles are used every day by the cars, and kept up, and stuff like that. The other one - itís completely different . . .

They open them up once a year . . .

Yeah, for the bikes (laughs) - thatís it. Iím telling you - I cannot explain the differences to you. It just wouldnít do it justice. The best I could do would be to describe it like this - they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter! (we both crack up) Thatís Paris-Roubaix. Itís that bad - itís ridiculous.

The only day youíre going to get a good day, in terms of what would benefit the riders the most, is that it would have had to have rained two days before. Because if it rained any later than that, itís going to be muddy and slippery, and if itís been drier for longer than that, then itís going to be dusty, and youíre not going to be able to see.

Yeah, Iíve seen it both ways - either everybody is caked with dust or mud - but they always have that same look on their faces - it says, "Where the hell am I!" (Both of us cracking up)

Yeah - exactly! And I never quite understood that. I havenít ever done Roubaix, but I was scheduled to do it once, I trained on the course, and they pulled me out, luckily. But later in the year, I had done a race called Trophee Lebreau, or something, which was on the West coast of France, and that race was all done on double track dirt roads, not cobbles. You couldnít see anything! The cars would be kicking up so much dust, you couldnít see anything. I mean, I donít know which you would prefer, to tell you the truth (we both laugh).

Bad vs. Bad!

Exactly.

So, when are you going to be heading over?

Um, they havenít exactly sent me any information on when training camp is, but Iím assuming itís going to be on the 10th [of January], give or take five days. Itís a good guess, because Iíve got three years of experience on when European teams take you over, but itís just a guess at this point. They havenít really told me when training camp is.

Where are you going to be living?

In Spain somewhere.

You havenít picked out a city yet, then?

No, I havenít decided yet. I havenít picked out a city, or anything.

So your family wonít be coming over with you, then?

Chris at the NY City Cycling Championships, 2003.
Photo by Scott Schaffrick.
No, thereís no money for that. The contract, money-wise, really isnít that good, so thereís just no money to have two houses, two cars, and, you know, two of everything.

If I go over by myself, itís more like - rent a room from a family, share an apartment with someone, or just get a one bedroom apartment by myself. But, if you go over with your family you need a house. If Iím by myself, I need a scooter and a bike. If Iím going over with my family - now I need a car. Itís pretty hard. You really need to be making good money to bring the whole family over.

Having two home bases is a minimum of $20,000 more, probably $40,000! So, now youíve got to fly everyone over, which is going to be $5,000 more in airline fares. You got $5,000 in flights. You got $5,000 in a car - thatís not even a good car - thatís just decent. Youíve got to insure the car. Youíre going to have to have a house, which is easily $10,000 or $15,000 extra. So thereís at least an extra $20,000 right there, and we havenít even started talking about the extra toys, the schools, and all that kind of stuff.

Yeah, that makes sense - definitely. So, what are you most looking forward to this year?

Iím just looking forward to doing the big races again. I enjoyed being at Lombardy so much! The whole time I was there, even when it was so fast, I was like, "This is cool!" It was just cool to be there.

Everyone thinks I left before. I didnít leave Europe though. I was racing for Mercury, and Mercury was going to be racing over there. I did leave to go to a US team, but I didnít actually leave Europe. I just wanted to get a mixture of being in the States a little bit more, racing with US guys, and racing in Europe. It wasnít like I said, "Oh, Iíve had enough - Iím going home."

That really wasnít what happened. What happened was that I had enough of being on a French team (laughs). I thought - "Letís find an American team, spend a little bit of time in the States, and still race over in Europe." And, of course, that year we did the trip to Langkawi - we did four more trips to Europe, and stuff, and the next year the team went D1, so we were going to be over there a lot.

Next thing you know, I didnít have anything. I tried to get over there when the team fell through, because I did have some results when I was over there. I was 3rd in the time trial at Criterium International, 11th on the mountain top finish, and 7th or 8th overall, so I thought that would get me on a team, but it didnít. Iím sure all the directors felt, "Well, once he left, he left," you know?

Yeah.

So I had to take a job with Prime Alliance.

Which turned out well . . .

Oh, it turned out fantastic! Itís really funny, yíknow, because Iím on five teams in five years now, but all of them have been good experiences, with the exception of Mercury, but Mercury was a great experience in terms of the riders. I really enjoyed the riders. It was just a bad experience in terms of the stress level and the directors. But, I mean, the riders were fantastic, the staff was fantastic, the races were good - it was just the management - because the checks werenít coming on time, and then they stopped coming at all.

Were you in Europe when that happened?

No, I was here in the States, luckily.


Chris at the World Championships Time Trial, Zolder 2002. Photo by Jeff Tse.

All right, so do you think youíll be coming back to the States for any racing this year?

Yeah, I will be coming back to the States - absolutely - thatís one of the original reasons I was put on the team. To go back - weíd agreed upon a contract a few weeks before the Worlds, and then we were just going to go ahead and sign it at Worlds. So, I think, originally, when they signed me it was something like, "Well, we need a boy to do the American races, so letís get Chris Horner." (We both laugh)

Yeah, why not just sign the guy who wins all of them, right?

(Still laughing) Yeah, well, I think thatís what they were kind of thinking. They were thinking, "Yeah, weíll put him on, and we wonít pay him much, and heíll be happy to be on," and all that kind of stuff. And hopefully I changed all that, which I think I did, at those races [last fall]. So, we went to Worlds, and that changed - but originally they brought me on for Georgia, San Francisco, Philly, and New York. Yeah, Iíll be back in the States three or four times.

Thatís great.

Yeah, and it was a great experience, being over there with the team for three weeks, because, first off, I found that I really liked the directors. And, of course, I always like Mauro [Gianetti], whoís the manager. But I got to meet some of the riders too, so next year Iím not like the "new new" guy.

Yeah, it was pretty much ideal that you stayed there after Worlds and did those races. And not just some races, but a couple of World Cups included!

Yeah, right - they were World Cup races, and we did Milan Turin too, which is a really big race in its own right. Me and four riders got off on a climb and dropped everyone. I got off just as we were dropping into a descent - and then the Saeco rider caught me about 2k from the line. Then we worked together, and we got caught about 300 meters from the line!

Ooooooooooh!

So, you know, I had a 5th or 6th in the bag, but we got caught, which was disappointing. For me, it was just a great experience to be back in those races, and know that there is where I want to be. So, all this winter, Iíve been, like, "Get me over there! Get me over there! Get me over there!" You know?

Yeah, and not only that you can handle being over there, but that you can do well over there.

Yeah, exactly, and, also, for this spring - if itís the beginning of the year - youíre not really riding that fantastic so early. Now the team has seen that I can ride at that level [last fall], so they wonít be so freaked out.

Right. So how do the tactics differ between the US and Europe?

Well - first thing - like at Lombardy - it was just a more difficult race to read because there were no teams left. I mean, if you look at the break, there was one team having two riders, three at the most, but that was, you know - if I recall correctly, I only remember seeing a couple teams with two riders each. So, it was kind of difficult to read - especially for me, because I wasnít really familiar with the riders and the jerseys by sight. I wasnít really familiar with them just by looking at them like I am in the States.

But, you know, normally the tactics in Europe are pretty simple. Youíve got nine and ten man teams, so you can afford to lose a lot of guys. The break goes off early - the tempo is pretty easy - then it gets really hard - and then after they catch the break, right toward the end, the big boys hit it and fight it out amongst themselves.

In the States there are a lot more tactics involved, because the racing is shorter - you canít get the time gaps so much - and also, you canít afford to lose five guys! But if you have a ten man team, you can afford to lose five guys. Youíve still got a team left - five fresh guys!

Yeah, right.

But in the States, if you lose five guys, you only have two guys left. Whoís going to do the work for you? You canít chase with just one guy. And the difference is, in the States, and it does happen - sometimes you get two teams working together, but itís pretty rare - usually itís more like, "Nope, Mercury missed it - they do the work. Nope, Saturn missed it, they do the work. Nope, Prime Alliance missed it, they do the work. Nope, Webcor does the work!" Yíknow? (laughs)

Literally, Webcor was the first team I have been on in the States, that when we got on the front we actually had some help from other teams. And that wasnít all the time - that was only once in a while.

Itíll probably be totally different for you now, since you wonít be so heavily marked.

Oh, I wonít be marked at all! (laughs) I mean, nobody knows me! I even heard Ďem at Lombardy, asking - I heard them talking to my teammate behind me - "Whoís this guy?"

Of course, probably anyone who speaks English or French over there is probably pretty familiar with me. Itís all the Italians and the Spanish guys who donít have a clue as to who I am.

Yeah, right. So, howís your Spanish?

Ah, you know, I was working on it there for a little while - it was coming along pretty well - but then, you know, the kids get out of school, and holiday stuff, with Thanksgiving and all of that - Iíve really been off the boat. Itíll come along. I havenít really had many problems with what I have learned, so itís coming along.

The Daily Peloton wishes you well, Chris! Good luck!

Well, thanks, I appreciate it. Everyone keeps asking me - are you going to be able to make it this year? People always ask, "Well, why didnít he make it before?" And Iíve always said - itís not the racing - it really wasnít. It wasnít the team - La Francaise des Jeux took care of me as professionally as a team can. It was more just getting used to the lifestyle.

You know, when I got back from Lombardy, everyone said, "All right, you did it - you must have adapted." And I said, "Well, I was only there for a month!" - know what I mean? Itís after a month that you still have to be performing.

I think now Iím going over there older and with more experience of what bad days are going to be like and then with the knowledge that there are good days around the corner. And also, I know I only have a few years left of racing over there, so I hope between all that Iím able to keep it together.

I believe you will.

I hope so! (laughs)

Good luck!

Yeah, thanks - ciao!


Horner and Fast Freddie at the US PRO startline, 2004. Photo courtesy PRO.

 
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