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Any notion of two weathered gunfighters squaring off at high noon in the Utah desert may have to be put aside this week at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, where competing priorities and human physiology could thwart attempts to set the table for a rematch between last year's main protagonists.
Although the pieces are in place for a replay of the 2013 showdown between winner Tom Danielson and runner-up Chris Horner, the latter's upcoming title defense at the Vuelta a España later this month and his need to rest after the Tour de France, where he came down with a slight case of bronchitis, will likely force Horner to keep his guns holstered for now. Danielison is on form and hungry to race after missing the Tour de France. However both riders face serious competition from the likes of Cadel Evans (BMC), Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and even Jens Voigt (Trek Factory Racing), who begins his final farewell in US races.
"If I stay sick I'll shut it down and go home," Horner said Sunday following the official press conference.
"If I stay healthy but the legs aren't quite recovered from the Tour, then I'll continue but I'll drop off from the leaders. I went into the Tour with great form. There's no doubt about it. It was really good. I just got sick. So if the sickness clears up and the legs that I believe I have at this moment are there and there is nothing hindering them, then I'll go for the win."
Horner wore the leader's jersey into Utah's final stage last year after winning the previous day at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. He and Danielson were tied on overall time heading into the finale. However the Garmin leader eventually dropped Horner on the final climb and took the overall win in Park City by more than a minute.
"Last year, even when I had the jersey, I knew I wasn't the best climber in the race," said Horner. "I knew I could tactically race a very intelligent race to take the jersey on that stage, but I could see what was coming on the next stage, too."
Horner will be leading an inexperienced Lampre-Merida squad in Utah just eight days after finishing the Tour and with the Vuelta already clearly on his mind. Danielson and Garmin-Sharp, meanwhile, are back this year with a talented eight-man team that includes several riders who just finished their first Tour de France.
"I think we have a really strong team here," Danielson said. "Those guys are going to play a really big part."
Last year, Horner arrived in Utah after missing most of the season while rehabilitating a knee he injured in March at Tirreno-Adriatico. Horner went on to win the Vuelta and he was originally scheduled to race the Giro d'Italia this year as part of his build up to the Vuelta defence. But a training crash in April left him with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a cut to his head, and he was forced to miss the Italian race. He recovered in time to compete in the Tour de France, where he fought off illness to ride consistently through the Alps and Pyrenees, finishing 17th overall.
Danielson arrived in Utah last year after having finished the Tour de France that July. His preparation this year, however, will be considerably different. After an admittedly lackluster spring that saw him retire from several races, Danielson took a break during July to focus on Utah and the USA Pro Challenge later in the month.