I got to give huge props to Chris Horner. The RadioShack rider took a convincing win at the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, showing he was a man on fine form. In a display of power on the steep slopes of Mt Baldy he and his Shack teammates dropped all contenders including favorite Andy Schleck.
In the post race press conference he said other than Alberto Contador, no one could out climb him. He even said he was aiming for top five at the Tour de France. At the age of 39 most riders would have ridden into the sunset, but Horner went on to say that he was planning to race in Europe for five more years and then return to the States and compete for another five years! Sure, that might have been a bit of post-race adrenaline still flowing through his veins, but I don’t think that’s out of reach for the San Diego resident.
In order to accomplish his top-five Tour goal he was going to skip the US Pro weekend in Greenville and instead see his kids in Bend, Oregon, take care of a sponsorship obligation and then race the Tour de Suisse. Sounds like a good plan – eliminate all the unnecessary travel and keep his eyes on the prize. As RadioShack director Bruyneel stated, they have no single GC favorite and Horner, along with Kloden and Brajkovic, will be their protected riders. Now is the time for Chris to make his mark on the one race that Americans value the most.
However Velonews.com is reporting that Horner is skipping the Tour de Suisse and staying home in San Diego.
“The team has faith that I can come into the race good,” Horner told Neal Rogers. “It’s what I wanted, to rest more, to train good, to be home all that time and head straight over right before the Tour. I’m very happy. It’s what I wanted.”
It’s no secret that Horner looked super lean in California and has adopted a strict diet, which paid off. But still – missing the Tour de Suisse? That’s a gamble.
The Swiss national tour, as well as the ongoing Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, is considered a “tune-up” for the Tour de France to a point that several riders were quoted as saying they were using the eight-day race as training. A quick look at past results from Tour de Suisse include Frank Schleck winning the 2010 edition with Armstrong finishing in third. Past winners are Cancellara, Kreuziger, Karpets, and Ullrich.
The Dauphiné’s past winners include Brajkovic, Valverde (twice), Moreau, and Leipheimer. Interestingly Tyler Hamilton won in 2000. Lance Armstrong won back to back in 2002 and 2003, and went on to win the Tour de France in both those years.
History has shown that past winners of the Tour have raced in one of these events – a successful template for this year’s contenders. Racing is usually part of the training component. Even someone like Armstrong, who showed that he hyper-focused on training and didn’t need a lot or racing, lined up in these tune-up stage races.
In this case I think Horner is making the right decision to skip Tour de Suisse. Horner is beyond veteran status and has shown that he has the discipline to train, so he doesn’t need a race to fine tune his fitness for the Tour. Sure, younger riders need the discipline and guidance of a stage race to keep them on track for the Grand Boucle.
So I tip my hat to Chris Horner and wish him well this July. But I’m curious, am I way off base with this? Is racing necessary for a build up to the Tour de France? I guess we’ll have to wait a few more weeks.