Chris Horner's transition from the WorldTour to the Continental domestic scene has not quite been the homecoming he had hoped for. Rather than dominate, Horner has struggled due to continuing lung issues that left him with sub par race results. A seventh place overall in the Redlands Bicycle Classic was followed by two failures to start in the Sea Otter Classic and Joe Martin Stage Race. The poor showing also left his team without invitations to the major North American UCI races, but he's hoping to find answers to his health issues soon.
The problem with Horner's lungs started in last year's Tour de France, where he and a number of riders in the peloton came down with bronchitis. Horner suspects that his serious crash in Italy last April in which his broken ribs punctured his lung, might have predisposed him to the lingering issues.
"The lungs are producing too much mucus, and so I can't breathe when we start going hard," Horner explained to Cyclingnews after he finished sixth on the opening stage of the Tour of the Gila, 57 seconds behind stage winner Rafael Montiel. "Here it's better because it's dryer, like [Tour of] Utah was better than the Tour [de France] last year. It's the same problem I had in the Tour that I have now, just not as extreme.
"Last week they did a bronchial scope, but it takes a week for one test and a month to get the results from another, because they have to grow the stuff they pull out of your lungs. Hopefully they can find something there," he said. "I had punctured a lung before, so they were already damaged from the crash in Italy. I punctured them again a few weeks later from them expanding into the broken ribs. I think whatever I had in the Tour is still lingering."
It's been frustrating for the 43-year-old, who expects to be able to continue to perform as a professional athlete, but has to battle against an unknown illness. "Hopefully I'll get the results this week and start solving the problem," he said. "I'm losing power when I have to go really deep. 300 Watts is no problem, but when I hit 350, I start losing power. Every time I hit 350, I have less oxygen."
Horner played down his ambitions for the Tour of the Gila, saying, "I came here for the training, because I haven't gotten to do much racing, but also because it's dry and I know it won't be as much of a problem. Then we'll go to Tour of Azerbaijan."
Even though Horner wasn't confident in his performance on Wednesday, the peloton showed that it still fears the 2013 Vuelta a España champion. With a breakaway up the road, the rest of the peloton looked to Horner's Airgas-Safeway team to chase on the opening stage of the Tour of the Gila, letting the gap stretch into the 15-minute range, but Horner was firm, knowing that his health did not guarantee a top result: "The break gained that time because they said if you don't ride, we won't ride," Horner said. "But I'm not going to put my guys on the front to get fifth. Clearly they're going to out time-trial me, too, so if they want to win they're going to have to ride the front."