An interview with Chris Horner, February 14, 2008
Six months ago, Chris Horner was between a 'rock' and a hard place. He had come to a contract impasse with his current team and was in on/off negotiations with the continental Rock Racing team, with neither team able to meet his terms. His future was uncertain, until an unlikely call from Johan Bruyneel and his new Astana team. Suddenly, Horner had everything he wanted in terms of a contract and on a ProTour team. Cyclingnews' North American Editor Mark Zalewski was on hand for the team's North American training camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and spoke with Horner about his new home.
When we spoke last with Chris Horner, his professional world was full of uncertainty. His team Predictor-Lotto, with which he had planned on re-signing for the next two seasons after a very strong showing at the Tour de France, working tirelessly for team-mate Cadel Evans and still managing fifteenth place overall. But when contract negotiations came around, Predictor-Lotto came up short, at least to what Horner thought he was worth.
"I honestly thought I was signing with Lotto," said Horner. "I wasn't asking for much more money and it was still at the low point of my worth, so I wasn't looking for other teams. But when I realized we weren't going to come to terms it was pretty late in the year! Then Rock called me; and talking with Michael Ball, if the deal had come through it would have been a really great contract."
But being so late in the season, Horner's options were limited. He did come close to signing with the Rock Racing team, as his Predictor-Lotto team-mate Freddie Rodriguez had done. However, Horner said he was never able to lock the terms he wanted with Rock Racing's owner Michael Ball.
"I got the first version and it was wrong; version two was wrong." - Horner described the difficulties of contract negotiations.
"It was crazy with the contracts," laughed Horner. "A lot of stuff was getting printed that I had signed with Rock Racing, and it had never actually happened. I had to call a lot of the media to say I hadn't yet!"
However, Horner said that he had planned to sign a contract with the team. "I had flown over after the Tour of Spain to sign a contract with Rock Racing but it fell apart," said Horner. "I got the first version and it was wrong; version two was wrong; I couldn't ever get it written the way I needed it. The end result, from day one I said these certain things were not negotiable and I sat through twelve weeks of talks to get it to say that way."
One of the biggest problems with Ball's contract is that it gives Ball virtually unlimited options in paying riders. At this point it was September and it looked as if his only option was to sign a small contract with Lotto, taking less than he thought he was worth just to keep racing in Europe. That is when the cycling gods smiled down on Horner for his 2007 performance.
"For me there was no better possible option," Horner said about his new team. "Luckily, Johan had a spot open up, so not only do I get to stay in Europe and get to ride with one of the greatest teams in the world, but I am on a secure team that is going to pay the salary they agreed to pay. I don't know if that would be the situation on Rock for the guys on the team, but if their contract reads like mine read, then [Ball will] have the option of whether he wants to or not."
Home is where the team is
For Horner, the team is an important aspect for him – particularly regarding the role he can play on one. When he raced domestically in the U.S., Horner was a captain on teams such as Saturn and Webcor, winning the inaugural Tour de Georgia. But since returning to Europe, Horner has found his role as a top lieutenant to be highly rewarding. This is something that Astana has going for Horner over a team such as Rock Racing. And on Astana, he'll be able to work for at least three guys who can win major stage races.
"Having a fantastic team that when you ride in those big events you are riding for a guy who can win, that makes all the difference," said Horner.
While the team is different this year, his racing schedule will look rather familiar, starting with new team-mate Levi Leipheimer's defense at the Tour of California later this month. "The program of races is the same that I have had in the past, which is great because I love going back to races over and over."
As for personal goals, being an Olympic year makes for special ambitions. "I would love it," he said regarding racing in Beijing. "But let's hope that I am on the coaches selection radar. But if it is there, I am a go for it."
"The Olympic road race is going to be really hard, so it makes it easier of who to select. You aren't going to select sprinters, so it makes it a little easier to make the team. The only guy who has made the team is Levi and he's my team-mate!"
The week in Albuquerque was Horner's first time meeting most of the staff and riders, so there are still a lot of unknowns. And though this team is technically new, Horner is coming in
from the outside. "It's half Astana and half ex-Discovery riders, and then they imported me. Levi is the only one I even really have known before; it's too early, it's the first time I have been with the team. But it looks like a good team and it certainly has a manager that knows what he is doing and a director that is on the same page too, so the ingredients are all there."
Editor's note: The interview was conducted before the news of Astana's exclusion from the 2008 Tour de France.