After months of negotiating and uncertainty, Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner has finally secured a 2014 contract with the Lampre - Merida team. The one-year deal was negotiated through Horner's new manager, Baden Cooke.
"Chris is one of the most hard working men in cycling, it would have been terrible had we not found him a top level team," Cooke told Cyclingnews. "Lampre - Merida have been brilliant to work with and have added a very strong man to an already very strong team."
Lampre-Merida team manager Brent Copeland called the signing "a good partnership", telling Cyclingnews that Horner will begin the season with the team in the Challenge Mallorca [provided the UCI approves the contract], and then move on to the Volta ao Algarve, the Volta a Catalunya, Pais Vasco and finally the Giro d'Italia.
"This will be the first part of the season, the second part is still to be discussed with the Vuelta included," Copeland said.
Horner's job hunt was complicated by several factors: he spent the majority of the season out of commission from a knee injury, only coming back for the Tour of Utah where he placed second overall, and then heading directly to the Vuelta a España, where he emerged as the surprise winner.
His relatively advanced age, 42-years-old, a history of injuries, suspicion surrounding his potentially being one of the redacted riders from the USADA doping case against Lance Armstrong, and his demands for a salary befitting a Grand Tour champion, all weighed in against him in the job market.
Copeland, however, seemed convinced that the team had done its homework and will get a good season out of the American.
"I would say any rider's past injuries are always a concern for any team, Chris is in good condition at the moment and this is our main concern, the present and the future is our main focus and to make sure his condition stays in good form," Copeland said.
"The decision on Chris was made evaluating with sponsors, technical staff and medical staff, we came to the conclusion in all three areas that bringing Chris on board would be a good decision. This also means the medical staff have done their necessary check ups on his medical status, and as it stands today with all these three areas deciding to go ahead with him coming on board helped make the final decision."
Copeland confirmed that the medical staff reviewed Horner's biological passport data and found no reason not to sign him.
Horner made his values public after his Vuelta win, hoping to fend off the suspicion that has dogged all Grand Tour champions since the Lance Armstrong doping saga erupted.
Horner took to Twitter to thank his supporters after the Lampre contract was announced, but was not available to speak to Cyclingnews. "Excited to announce that I'll be racing for @lampre_merida! Thanks to Lampre, Merida, @Champion_System, and all of the team sponsors! And thanks again to all of the sponsors who took care of me between teams, and fan support along the way. Appreciate the love," Horner wrote.