After a few early season setbacks for his team, Chris Horner made his debut Wednesday with Airgas-Safeway at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, a race the 43-year-old Grand Tour champion has won four times already in his career.
“I love being back at Redlands,” Horner told Cyclingnews after finishing with the front group during the stage 1 Highland circuit race. “I grew up doing this race. It’s near my home where I grew up in San Diego. I think I’ve been here 11 times, give or take race, so for me, I always look forward to it. It’s a nice race to come back to.”
Horner signed with Airgas-Safeway, a second-year US Continental team, after spending more than a decade racing in Europe and winning the Vuelta a Espana in 2013.
The team had planned to start racing at the Vuelta Mexico in March, but that race was cancelled at the last minute, making Redlands the American veteran’s debut. The highland Circuit Race provided a fitting welcome back for Horner.
“This is a hard stage to make your first race,” Horner said. “This is my first race of the season, not just my first race back at Redlands. It’s a hard race to start on because it’s zero power, big, big, big power, zero, big, zero, big all day, so it’s hard. That’s not the kind of training I have. I’d prefer something a little more steady. But this is the way it played.”
Horner looked comfortable riding in the pack throughout the stage, which Jamis-Hagens Berman’s Sebastian Haedo won in an uphill sprint ahead of 2014 National Racing Calendar winner Travis McCabe (Team SmartStop).
“I don’t know if there were time splits this way or that way, but I don’t think so,” Horner said of his GC position heading into Thursday’s Big Bear Lake time trial. “It was a good start. I’ll take it as a day one. The form is good. It could be better, but it always gets better after the first couple of days, so we’ll see how it goes for the rest of the race.”
Horner is hoping to add his fifth overall win at Redlands this year, but told Cyclingnews he wasn’t sure if the 2015 course favors a climber like himself or another type of rider.
“It depends,” he said. “I don’t know what the Oak Glen stage is. I’ve won there before, but we had a different finish. We went up the backside of Oak Glen, so I don’t know this new finish. I’m told from the guys on the team that it’s pretty hard, but I don’t know if it’s as hard as the old one, so I can’t really comment on how it well go.
“Of course, Sunset [the final stage] is always selective,” Horner said. “Oak Glen is going to be selective. I just don’t know how much.”