RadioShack's Chris Horner took home the most nostalgic overall victory of his career at the Amgen Tour of California that concluded with the eighth and final stage in Thousand Oaks on Sunday. The American will skip the USA Pro Cycling Championships next weekend and instead turn his attention to a podium performance, and perhaps an overall win, at the Tour de France in July.
"I was nostalgic all day," said Horner in the closing press conference. "I was having a grin from ear-to-ear. I've done so much training up here on these roads, maybe going back as far as 1991. I've really built my career training here. This Southern California area has been my stomping grounds. As soon as they added the summit finishes this race really became a goal for me. I want to say that the crowds throughout California and on the summit finishes were epic."
RadioShack announced that it would support two team leaders during the Amgen Tour of California; Horner and three-time overall winner Levi Leipheimer. However, Horner proved to be the stronger of the two riders on the first mountaintop finish on Sierra Road, stage four of the eight-day race. He maintained his overall race lead through the second and more decisive mountaintop finish on Mt. Baldy during stage seven, where Leipheimer took the stage win.
"I don't mean this to sound bad, but he's been more professional," said Leipheimer who showed unwavering support for Horner during this week. "And you're seeing the result of that. I've had some health issues this year, and the team wasn't that confident in me coming into this race, and they needed someone as a plan B, and it turned out to be Chris. I think it was smart of the team, I'm happy because I've shown that I could have won, but my teammate was better. And there's no denying that."
Horner finished the race with a 38 seconds ahead of Leipheimer in the overall classification. Tom Danielson of Garmin-Cervelo finished the race in third place followed by his teammate Christian Vande Velde in fourth, Tejay Van Garderen of HTC-Highroad in fifth and Laurens Ten Dam of Rabobank in sixth.
Garmin-Cervelo came to the race with a strong team of climbers that included Dave Zabriskie, who won the stage six time trial in Solvang, Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin and Andrew Talansky. The race included other strong overall contenders in Andy Schleck and Linus Gerdemann (Leopard Trek), Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare), Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) and Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale).
"It was an honour to stand on the podium with Chris and Levi," Danielson said. "I started my career with Chris on Saturn and with Levi on Discovery Channel and I learned a lot from both. I wouldn't be half the rider that I am today without having raced with these guys. I enjoyed racing for third place and being able to celebrate it with them. That being said, Garmin-Cervelo did a great job this week and we definitely gave RadioShack a run for their money."
Eyeing the Tour de France podium
Horner will turn his attention to preparing for the Tour de France in July where he hopes to secure a podium position. He went into last year's Tour working for his former teammate, and seven-time winner, Lance Armstrong in 2010. Adversity took Armstrong out of contention to place in the overall ranking and after days of working as a domestique, Horner managed to finish the race with a top 10.
"The Tour de France will be my next objective," Horner said. "I have definite plans of riding there in 100 per cent form. I will focus solely on working to bring my form back up to 100 per cent for the Tour de France. I plan on being top five, if not on the podium. I think I can climb with anyone in the world and I'll show that in July."
Leipheimer will also focus on a strong performance at the Tour de France. According to Horner, the pair will likely enter the race as co-leader in similar fashion to the Amgen Tour of California. Leipheimer is no stranger to the Grand Tour podium having placed third overall at both the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.
"Levi and I will have to do everything exactly correctly to come into the Tour de France with good form," Horner said. "It's a very small window. Make no mistake with RadioShack, this team is 100 per cent dedicated to the rider who can win the Tour de France. I have no problem working for Levi; he has no problem working for me. We have fantastic Jani [Brajkovic], who could shine at the Tour de France, and certainly [Andreas Kloden] Klödi there. But I expect to be there with four guys who have a little bit of freedom. It will be become really clear after the first mountain stage, and this team, we get along really well, and we'll support the strongest rider."
Horner noted some strong contenders that he will have to face at the Tour de France including Saxo Bank SunGard's Alberto Contador, Liquigas-Cannondale's Ivan Basso, BMC's Cadel Evans and Leopard Trek's Andy Schleck, among others.
"We already know who the leaders are for the Tour de France," Horner said. "No one has the form that Alberto Contador has displayed. He is good at every race. It is spectacular to see how often he can ride that form. Andy Schleck's form of last year was as good as if not better than Alberto in the climbs, maybe vice-versa in the time trial. Andy will be the big favorite, his brother Fränk will be there to back him up."
"Those two teams have to carry the whole weight of the race on their shoulders," he added. "And RadioShack will have a little bit of freedom to rest and come into it with really good form. At this moment I have not seen anyone go faster than I have seen Andy and Alberto go in July. At this moment, that is our target, those two are the five-star favorites."
No USA Pro Cycling Championships for Horner or Leipheimer
Both Horner and Leipheimer will skip the USA Cycling National Championships held from May 29-31 in Greenville, South Carolina. The duo will attend a sponsor event and take time to recover and better prepare for the Tour de France.
"I would love to do go to the USPro Championships but with the Nissan thing I am going to have to avoid the USPro Championships," Horner said. "It was originally in my plans but the Nissan has been a great sponsor and they have asked myself and Levi to be at their events, which run just after the USPro Championships."
"There has to be some time for me to spend with my kids and family," he added. "It was too difficult to fly to USPro Championships and fly back to Oregon, back to Michigan for Nissan, back to Oregon and fly to the Tour of Suisse. I asked to avoid the USPro Championships so that I can spend more time with my kids."
RadioShack's current US National Champion Ben King will return to defend his title.