Chris Horner will move from the bicycle seat to the broadcaster's chair this July for the Tour de France, joining the on-air team for the American NBC Sports television network during the French Grand Tour.
"I'm going back to the Tour," a typically upbeat Horner told Cyclingnews Friday evening from his home in Bend, Oregon, where he had just completed a 144km ride earlier in the day.
Horner will be part of NBC Sports' daily 'traveling studio' for the three-week race, providing analysis and interviews before and after each stage. Paul Burmeister will return to host the studio segments, with retired US pro Christian Vande Velde also reprising his analyst role, according to an announcement published on the NBC Sports website. Vande Velde and Horner will also be called upon to add to the the play-by-play coverage from Bob Roll, who will move from the studio to call the action with Phil Liggett after Liggett's longtime broadcast partner Paul Sherwen died in December.
Horner said he will fly to Europe on July 2 to start preparing for the three-week race that starts July 6 in Brussels, Belgium.
"They have some new material that they want us to learn for the show, so we’ll go over and learn a little bit of that, practice on it, and then we’ll shoot from the hip," he said. "They throw you in the deep water, the deep end of the pool, and hopefully it all works out well."
Horner got an introduction to race commentary this year with NBC Sports at the Ardennes Classics Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He said he sat in and watched Vande Velde for Flèche and then picked up the live microphone for Liège with the understanding that it would also serve as an on-the-job tryout for this year's Tour de France.
He got the call-up not long after that and has been waiting for NBC Sports to make the official announcement. He'll soon find out if providing expert analysis and concise opinions for daily broadcasts over three weeks will turn into a new avenue where he can excel in cycling.
"I’m really good at chatting and talking about bike racing," he said. "But for TV you have to cut it a little bit shorter, you have to be to the point, you have to be real clear and crisp, and so that’s the part I don’t have experience with. We’ll see if I can do it and if I’m good at it, and, of course, will I enjoy it? All those factors go in. You gotta be good at it, and then I have to enjoy it too.
"With anything, when you haven’t done it before, you don’t know exactly what you’re doing," Horner admitted. "I have an idea of what it is because I’ve been a pro bike racer and been around bike racing my whole life, but no one knows exactly what it is until you’ve sat in that chair."
Unlike the one-day races Horner worked for NBC earlier in the season, he'll have three weeks in July to learn the ropes of his new role as journalist and just where he fits into the media food chain at the world's biggest race.
"They asked me, ‘Would you be good at talking to all the directors and all that stuff?’ I said, ‘Well I think when I have the NBC badge on they’ll actually take the call, so I probably will be. You can’t go bigger than NBC, right?'" Horner told Cyclingnews. "But even when I said that, I don’t really know that it’s true. I assume that when you call and they know you’re NBC that they pick up the phone, but maybe they don’t."
'Regardless of what I do in life, I'm still riding the bike'
Horner, 47, raced professionally for more than two decades and competed in the Tour de France seven times, most recently in 2014 with Lampre-Merida. He won the Vuelta in 2013 at the age of 41, but his team kept him out of the Spanish Grand Tour the following year when his cortisol levels dropped below the threshold considered healthy.
A 2012 Olympian, Horner earned his best-ever Tour de France result with RadioShack in 2010, when he finished ninth overall. He raced his last Grand Tour at the 2014 Tour de France, but Horner competed on the UCI Continental level in 2015 and 2016 with Airgas-Safeway and Lupus Racing, respectively. He returned briefly last year with Team Illuminate, competing in the USPro championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as the Sibiu Cycling Tour in Romania.
Earlier this month, Horner competed in the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, finishing 17th overall in a race won by 'veteran' US rider Travis McCabe (Floyd's Pro Cycling), currently 17 years Horner's junior.
"I rode my bike 90 miles today," Horner told Cyclingnews Friday evening. "I don’t get paid to ride my bike and I’m out there doing 90 miles – like a crazy lunatic. But I love it. I really do. I always have. The fact that people paid me to do it just made it that much more fun.
"Regardless of what I do in life, I’m still riding the bike, I’m still watching bike races on TV, and when [NBC Sports producer] David Michaels called and said, ‘Hey, are you interested in doing the Tour?’ I was like, ‘Absolutely.’
"They’d asked me six or eight years ago, and I said no because I was still bike racing. Doing TV commentary for bike races was maybe the number-two best job, but the number-one best job I was already doing, so it didn’t make much sense. Now I just don’t have those legs, unfortunately.
"I told David, I said, ‘I’m going to be watching the Tour at home for six hours a day, or I could be at the Tour de France watching it and telling stories. So, yeah, I’d love to go with him and go do it. It’s a win-win."
The Tour de France begins Saturday, July 6, in Brussels and concludes Sunday, July 28, on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.