Chris Horner went into his first Tour de France this year with the high ambition of a top ten result. When a sluggish performance on the road to Briançon put paid to that ambition, he set about executing plan B - a stage win in the race.
Horner went frustratingly close to that goal today, being caught and passed by the bunch with just 200 metres to go. He has been clear as part of a five man breakaway group for most of the 173.5 kilometre stage, then raced on ahead with Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) after the Frenchman bridged across. The two worked well together to try to stave off the fast-closing peloton, but when the American stopped riding inside the final kilometre, their fate was sealed.
Despite being so near to a career-best result, he was surprisingly upbeat at the finish. "It has not been a disappointment, just to be here at the Tour is great," he cheerfully told Belgian TV1. "Like I said, I thought we would get caught sooner. To make it that far was spectacular and to be so close...I've seen it happen many times to other riders and I knew it would happen to me, sooner or later. Unfortunately it had to come at the Tour. But it was a spectacular day, so I will take it."
With Chavanel leading in the final kilometre and looking back continuously to check where Horner was, it was clear that the break was losing necessary momentum. The bunch was hurtling along behind them, with green jersey contenders desperate to scrap it out for the win. But, despite getting caught, the Saunier Duval rider feels he did the right thing. "We both hesitated a little bit, and I needed him to lead it out to beat him," he told Cyclingnews. "I just didn't have fresh legs to lead out from a k [to go]. He wanted me to pull through at 800, 700 metres, but I knew if I pulled through, I would have to lead it out from there. So it wasn't an option for me to lead it out for the win. I was in the break all day so if he can't win from leading it out, it is not my fault."
Horner clearly enjoyed the experience, saying that it was fantastic to be part of the Tour. He had planned on taking it a bit easier, though. "I wanted to get a little recovery in today and that (being in the break all day) is just not quite the best way to recover. I was the Saunier Duval rider there, and I saw Flecha go, and you know if you see Flecha go, you've got to cover it. Our guys had covered all the moves before I covered that one, so it was not necessarily my turn, but it just needed to be done and I was in the move, so what are you going to do? (laughs)
"But it wasn't so bad really. It was steady up there, the pulls were steady and everything was smooth. I thought it was easier to be up there than back (in the bunch). We will find out tomorrow how much it affected me. But I'll take it, you can't turn down an opportunity like that. It was great to be up there."
So does he think he will still have the legs for Sunday? "I hope so, but I can't guarantee anything at the moment - everything's a little new to me."