Silver lining after months of storm clouds for Luxembourg outfit
RadioShack-Nissan will take an unassailable lead in the team classification of over six minutes into tomorrow's final stage at the 2012 Tour de France after they consolidated their position at the top of the standings in Saturday's 53.5km time trial from Bonneval to Chartres. With Sunday's final stage set to end in the traditional bunch sprint, there is no realistic chance of the second-placed outfit in the standings, Team Sky, catching them.
Top-20 performances in the stage from Andreas Klöden (19th) and Jens Voigt (20th) meant that the absence of star time trialist Fabian Cancellara wasn't felt as keenly as it might have been. Cancellara, who won the prologue here and held the yellow jersey for seven days, returned home midway through the Tour to be present at the birth of his second child.
Veteran American rider Chris Horner was high on emotion and adrenaline after crossing the finish line here in Chartres and revealed that the team had vowed to put last week's shocking withdrawal of team leader Fränk Schleck behind them and protect their position at the top of the standings through to tomorrow's concluding stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Horner, who was a late inclusion in the RadioShack team for this Tour, has belied his 40 years by competing strongly and consistently over the last three weeks. He lies in 13th place in the overall GC with just one day of racing to go and he put everything he had on the line today in the time trial.
"I was just so worried about the team classification that I wanted to go strong," Horner told reporters at the finish. "I didn't want people saying ‘well Horner went easy'. Once I got out there the legs felt good so I just kept on the power.
"I was 95 percent all the way – I was never 100 percent as you can't go 100 percent for 53km. I went as fast as I could and thought ‘I'm not going any faster – that's as fast as I can go'. The sponsors really pushed hard to make this Tour happen for me and to get an American on the team. So to make it to the end for them feels great."
Horner hinted that the problems endured by RadioShack over the last few months resulted in creating a siege mentality amongst those remaining on the Tour until the end.
Performances overall from the team have been sub-standard all year; there have been rumours of unpaid salaries and financial irregularities; last year's Tour runner-up Andy Schleck was forced to withdraw through injury weeks before the race, and just last week the cycling world was shocked by news of irregularities in his brother Fränk's urine sample taken during the Tour on July 14.
"It's been difficult at times, there's no doubt about that," Horner said. "It tough when you have some of the problems we've had going on with the team. Throughout I thought ‘if we can get on the podium in Paris I've earned my cheque'.
"Stages are more important for the individual rider but the team classification means a lot. If you have guys finishing fifth or sixth in the GC in Paris you cross the line, shower and go back to the hotel. If you win the team classification you shower and then you go and stand on the podium on the Champs-Élysées in front of millions of people. So it was a big goal and is very important for this team."
Horner revealed that he has felt better at this Tour than he ever has in the past and stated that he hopes to return next year at the grand old age of 41. He also had some words of encouragement for Fränk Schleck who he has clearly become close to over the last few months.
"I want to come back, absolutely, if I've got the legs," Horner said. "I felt that this was the strongest Tour de France I've had. I felt really good in the mountains and thought that there were only four or five guys that could climb better than me here. I figured that if I got dropped it was more because of the efforts I was putting in to protect the team classification or to help guys on the team.
"I really missed having Fränk here. It was a great experience having him on the team. I sat at the back on the bus with him so it got a little lonely after he left. I have a lot of faith in him and I hope to be back with him at some point. We've had some really great moments and some difficult ones too."