American rues team captain's puncture
Chris Horner, looking surprisingly fresh after finishing 42nd at 43 seconds from the winner of the Flèche Wallonne, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), was as happy as he could be with his day’s work.
"Our plan was to make the race as hard as possible, along with other teams, because we knew that if Rodriguez got to the bottom of the Mur with the lead group then he was going to be hard to beat. A short, steep climb like that suits the sort of rider he is, he’s very punchy," Horner explained outside the RadioShack-Nissan bus.
And, of the RadioShack-Nissan riders, the plan was to put Frank Schleck in as good a position as possible and isolate Rodriguez. Alas, the best-laid plans of mice, men and race teams rarely work out and Schleck punctured his rear wheel with 10km to go. It could have been worse, he could have punctured even closer to the finish, but it was far from ideal.
"I was riding beside Frank when he punctured and I asked him if he wanted my wheel, but he said no, he would wait for the mechanic, which, to be honest, is often the best thing to do – at least the mechanic knows how to put a wheel in quickly and how to do the wheel skewer up properly," laughed Horner. "And of course I could have swapped bikes with Frank too, but that wouldn’t have worked out that well, considering the size difference, although it might have made a funny picture."
From that point of the race on, it was clear that Schleck wasn’t going to be in a position to win the race and that Horner, logically, would be able to ride his own race. "Well, yes, but the plan for us was to try to make the race as hard as possible, to soften up Rodriguez and his team. I had accelerated the second time up the Mur, just to raise the tempo a little, to test things out and see who was going to react and who was looking good. But when I did that, just about everybody looked good!"
In the end, a group of around 45 riders hit the Mur, chasing down Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin) and Lars-Peter Nordhaug (Sky) who had broken clear with 8km to go, ‘enjoying’ a maximum lead of 12 seconds. They were eaten on the Mur inside the final kilometer.
"Even when we got to the foot of the final climb, it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that Rodriguez was going to win, it was so slippery in the run in that you never know, someone can crash, or you can get caught up behind a crash and in the finale, if someone misses a gear you can get stuck behind someone who has stalled. I remember one year I started at the back of the group in the final climb and I ended up seventh I think, so you can make your way forward and finish in the top 10, but you aren’t going to win from way back, not even Rodriguez."
Overall Horner seemed content with his ride and, looking ahead to Liege-Bastogne-Liege, he was optimistic. "I’m getting better, that’s for sure, because I was a little sick after racing in Spain. I was better than at Amstel which was just ugly!" Next stop? "I’m having a day off tomorrow!" Which seems fair enough.