Horner ready to light up the climbs at Tour of Utah

Airgas-Safeway leader says young team is no different than last year’s Lampre squad

Chris Horner is returning to the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah this year with a mission to move up one spot on the podium. For the past two years, Horner, 43, has finished second to Cannondale-Garmin’s Tom Danielson in the race, which is a 2.HC event this year.

Horner finished second in 2013 just one month before going on to win the Vuelta a España. He entered the Tour of Utah that year with RadioShack after a lingering knee injury kept him out of competition for five months.

Last year Horner came to the race with Lampre-Merida fresh off the Tour de France, which was not originally part of his race program. This year’s race will be the first time Horner has been able to specifically target Utah, and he’s hoping that focus will push him into the final yellow jersey.

Horner returned to domestic racing this year with Airgas-Safeway, and so far his performances have not matched the pre-season expectations. He’s finished in the top 10 in multiple national events and most recently finished 12th overall at the Cascade Cycling Classic after he and Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) lost out in a tactical battle during the third stage.

Horner told Cyclingews last week that his form is good, his legs are good and he’s looking forward to going for the win this week in the Beehive state.

“Everything is super steep,” he said of the 2015 route. “I look forward to that.”

Horner faces another uphill battle, however, as he is riding this year with a Continental team rather than the WorldTour squads he was on the past two years. The former Vuelta winner said he doesn’t see his Airgas teammates’ relative inexpereince as much of an issue.

“Actually this year will be exactly the same as last year,” he said. “I went into the race with Lampre last year, but they were all 20-year-old kids, give or take. So it’s really almost the same scenario. The only thing that changed is the budget size of the team.

“Going in with Lampre, they asked, ‘What do you need? You need an extra soigneur, no problem. You need and RV?’ Of course the budget is a little smaller and you need to be a little more careful with the money going in there. But last year I went in with a bunch of 20-, 22-year-old kids, and this year I’m going in with 20-, 22-year-old kids. So it’s much the same.”

This year’s field in Utah will be different than in the past, however, with only three WorldTour teams competing rather than five as there were in 2013 and six last year. But again, Horner said he doesn’t think the change in make up will affect the race significantly.

“I think it’s still going to be the same guys fighting for GC as last year and the year before,” he said. “The big teams are going to control the race until we get into the mountain stages, and then of course if their guy can put the leader’s jersey on they’ll continue to control the race.

“I think it’s going to be just as exciting as it always has been. The talent looks the same as it has been every year. It’s not the Tour de France, but what is?”

Horner expects Danielson, who hasn’t raced since the Tour de Suisse in June, to be primed and ready to defend his title, and he’s hoping to revive the rematch that has played out on the final two days of the race over the past two years.

“Anytime you’re coming back to a race you’ve won, you’re always super motivated,” Horner said. “Clearly he likes Utah and it suits him well, so it should be a good battle between him and I, and there’s always somebody else up there, too.”

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