It is hard to imagine, but just under three months ago, Chris Horner was lying in an Italian hospital bed with a myriad of injuries that included a punctured lung and four broken ribs. However, the Lampre-Merida rider was in fine form just two days before he is set to ride the Tour de France.
Horner was due to ride the Giro d’Italia as the team leader, but he was unable to ride his bike after being hit by a car in April. Horner admitted that he thought his career was over when he found himself on the tarmac. Most expected that his Grand Tour comeback would be for his Vuelta a España title defence. Since the crash, Horner has staged a recovery almost as surprising as his Vuelta victory.
The road wasn’t easy for the 42-year-old, and the coming days will be unknown territory for him. “The form is alright, it’s not bad. I don’t know if it is winning form like the Vuelta but it’s something. I’ll take it and we’ll see what happens,” he told Cyclingnews with a wry laugh.
“First, it’s just about trying to get through the first week, that’s what I’m looking at. It’s just trying to get through the first week, don’t lose time and hopefully don’t get caught up in the crashes. It would be difficult to get involved in another crash so early in my recovery. Once we get to the mountains we’ll see what happens.”
World Champion, Rui Costa will be the team’s main leader at the Tour. Costa won two stages of last year’s race. Horner will be riding in support of Costa this year, with the potential to ride for the GC if his form holds out. Due to his recent injuries, Horner was reluctant to lay claim to joint leadership with Costa.
“At the moment I don’t want leadership, I just want to make it through the first week and if you’ve got a problem then you’ve got a teammate to help you out. I don’t expect a team to be around me, I expect them to be around Rui and I will stay near Rui.”
Costa has never led a team at a Grand Tour, but comes into the race with his third consecutive Tour de Suisse title under his belt. While Costa is yet to prove himself over three weeks, Horner has every confidence in the Portuguese rider and thinks that their underdog status could work to their advantage.
“It could be that he was just too young before and no he’s at the right age to go three weeks. Clearly when you win the Tour de Suisse three times you’re a good stage race rider. Over three weeks we don’t know, but it doesn’t mean that he isn’t,” Horner explained in his usual animated manner.
“Froome and Contador will be watching each other and they’ll be watching Valverde because he went and won the time trial at the national championships. Maybe that wasn’t a great ideal, but he did and obviously he’s in great for. So the others are going to watch him. It leaves it open.”
Horner is the second oldest rider in the Tour’s peloton, after his former team-mate Jens Voigt – who is just over a month older than him. Horner signed a one-year contract with for Lampre-Merida this winter, after he was unable to reach a contract agreement with his RadioShack team. Despite next season not yet secure for the experienced rider, he remains confident about his prospects.
“I’m sure that’ll come. You ride good, then you’ll always get a contract. I don’t need to worry about that right now,” he said. “July is a good time to ride good for a contract. The only difference between riding good in July compared to later is that it is easier for the team to decide if they want you or not, because they’re not full and the budget is still there. It makes it really easy if you ride good in July.”