Chris Horner has denied that he is the redacted name labeled as rider 15 in USADA’s Reasoned Decision. During an interview with ProCycling Magazine, the 2013 Vuelta a Espana victor discussed his year and his win in the Spanish Grand Tour. The American rider was also asked if he was rider 15, a topic he refused to discuss when Cyclingnews called him twice in September.
Rider 15 appears in Levi Leipheimer’s affidavit with USADA redacting names due to possible links to ongoing investigations.
The following transcript is taken from the interview which took place at Horner’s home last month. Horner is still without a contract for 2014 despite his success this year. He released his biological passport data last month in a bid to quell any speculation and provide transparency.
Ben Delaney: Were you involved in the Lance Armstrong investigation?
Chris Horner: Nope.
Ben Delaney: Are you rider 15?
Chris Horner: Nope. Well, I don’t know who rider number 15 is but I never had that conversation. So, it’s not me. USADA has never contacted me. Clearly I’ve never been in touch with the Puerto investigation, the Italian investigation, yada, yada, yada. Clearly I wasn’t involved, you can go all the way back to when I first started in 1998. Also, you can look at my results. It’s always been boggling to me. You see my results get better and better. And you see the drug testing get better and better. And so, as a rider, I always find it funny. Why didn’t you guys see it? Why don’t you guys see how difficult it was in '97, '98, '99?
I had a difficult time in Europe. It’s difficult to say whether the drug problem was there or it wasn’t there, and that was the reason. I was 10 pounds overweight; that was one of the reasons. Maybe 2002, when the EPO test started coming out, then they started perfecting it, then they started doing at-home out-of-competition testing, then the biological passport. All that has helped my career. As the testing has gotten better, my results have gotten better.
I always find it funny with you guys, the journalists, when I release my passport data – after everyone asks for proof – none of you guys bother analyzing it. Why don’t you guys analyze the blood passport and put it up on your web pages?
Cyclingnews said I wouldn’t respond to the redacted thing. I didn’t not respond. He called me the day after a 48-hour trip at 7:30 am in the morning as I had four hours of sleep and I was leaving the grocery store so I could have breakfast. As I was on a nine-hour time change and I didn’t want to have a two-hour conversation with him in the parking lot. What I just said was, no, I gotta go. I didn’t answer any of his questions. That was the funny part about the conversation. Why not do the research? As the testing has got better, my results have gotten better.
And look, any rider that you ask, 'Did you do any drugs in your career?’ Any rider that didn’t is going to tell you 'no', and any rider that did is going to tell you 'no'. You’re going to get that same answer. So you have to look at how his results go along with the drug testing getting better and better.
When all the information is out there, you can go look. You can go see, in 1997 I didn’t finish any World Cup races except for the one in England. There’s a reason why I finished that one; nobody wanted to be there. But I couldn’t finish Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And I couldn’t get results at those races. In 2001, I got 50th at Fleche Wallonne. Was there a drug problem in sports? Yes, everybody knows that. Of course there was a drug problem in sports. But look at my results and see I have no results from that time. Some of those races I couldn’t even finish. Now could I not finish those races because I was 10 pounds overweight? Or was it because everybody was doing product or because half the guys were doing product? I don’t know. I don’t know how many guys were doing this or that. Did it exist? Of course it did. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows that there were X amount of blood bags sitting in fridges for Puerto. We saw pictures. We don’t know if they are all cyclists or some are soccer players. But clearly we know there was a drug problem. But we can see that, amazingly enough, my results in Europe are nonexistent during then.
In '97, I could finish third at Plouay. Nobody over here knows what Plouay is. I couldn’t finish the big races. The first time I started getting results was at the end of 2004, I think I was eighth at the world championships after getting dropped on the last climb and then coming back with [Erik] Zabel. I stayed with Zabel and he’s a sprinter, and he had two or three German teammates and I knew they’d pull the whole way to get us back on. His boys did all the work and I sat on the whole time. I did the sprint, put myself in a good position and good eighth. That was the first real result I had.
In 2005, I went over there (with Saunier Duval) and I did okay at Catalonia, I think I was 16th or something. I then won a stage of the Tour de Suisse.
As the drug testing gets better and better, so do my results. Now it is an amazing time to be a bike racer in Europe. It’s really nice. You can see the speeds are slower, and I can feel the speeds are slower. You can see riders getting dropped on the climbs. You can see that if one rider pulled for 50km and they hit a steep climb, he can no longer pull going up that climb. The fans at home should visually be able to see the difference. I understand that they don’t have the experience that I have when they’re watching on TV. But it’s there, it’s a fact. You can see it. Any you can see the differences in my performances throughout my career get better and better as the controls gets better and better.
They were difficult times, it was hard to race during those years in Europe.
Ben Delaney: To play devil’s advocate, why not dope? Doped riders won races and got rich.
Chris Horner: Riders are getting caught. So I don’t know if it’s an ethical question that I ever came up against more than, if you get caught you’re going to lose your job. And riders are getting caught. A lot aren’t, but some are. So you’re going to lose your job.
Also, you don’t know what to do, okay? Where do you buy it? How do you get it? Nobody offered it to me. The teams that I rode on didn’t come to me and say, here, you have to take this. None of the teams I ever rode on ever offered me drugs or told me I had to take drugs. It was never offered to me.
Is there a part of me that at times thought that at times, 'yes, I gotta do it, I gotta do it, I gotta do it.' Where do you do it? You’re sitting there, I’m a 25-year-old kid, I don’t now how to buy milk from the grocery store. I didn’t speak French. I don’t speak French now.
Ben Delaney: Many teams did provide riders with doping products.
Chris Horner: Not every team is like that. The whole first four months, I never had a conversation this long. You are coming from the US where you have never heard about it, you’ve never seen it. You’ve got to remember, now, information is everywhere, but in '97 when I went over, there was no internet. I don’t know what race I’m going to. And so the option is just not there. Clearly as riders amongst the teams and stuff everybody would talk about, 'maybe this guy is doped, that guy is doped.' But nobody knows. They guess. They see the guy win the race and think, oh, he must be. That’s a topic that has always existed within the cycling community. But it’s not like the guy who won the race comes up to me and goes, 'hey, Chris, you know I doped to win that race.'
Now it’s pretty easy. I learned all my doping news from Cyclingnews. It’s pretty easy to figure out it. You just go on there and go, oh, okay. And you figure it out.
After the '98 Festina Affair, that’s when it started becoming news. It was, 'oh, wow, that’s the kind of product they’re doing'. It made worldwide news. You could pick up a newspaper and read about the different products that the soigneur was bringing over the border. That’s when information became a little more open. Before that though, you just guessed. Your buddy told you this or he told you that, but he doesn’t know. But there is not the option as a 25-year-old kid who doesn’t speak the language in France to just go do EPO. But really you think of it as you weren’t given the option more than you didn’t take the option.