American Chris Horner has been knocked out of racing with broken bones and faced frustrating recoveries four times this season. On each occasion he has returned to form and into the mix, knocking at the door of a strong result before the next crash sent him back to the sofa to heal a fracture.
He'll get his last chance to salvage his season in October when he again returns to racing in Europe.
"This year I've been a dark horse for almost any race I've been in, but I can't get through the races healthy," Horner told Cyclingnews. "There are four more races left, so that's why I want to go back and do them.
"I feel like this year I've made a great leap in terms of where my fitness is and going up against all the big hitters. I don't need to go back because I need a contract. It's purely because I want to go back and get one win in."
A crash in the Tour of California didn't stop the Astana (soon to be RadioShack - his contract is nearly final) rider from finishing the race, but the fractured knee kept him out of Paris-Nice. A return in the Tour of the Basque Country lasted four stages until another crash left him with a fractured collarbone.
Coming back in the Giro d'Italia, Horner was eighth on the general classification after several tough mountain stages when a crash sent him packing with a fractured leg. The injury left him without the coveted Tour de France spot, but determined to shine in a Grand Tour, Horner returned to the Vuelta a Espana only to have another fall.
"Forty guys went down in the rain and it was spectacular. I don't think it was anybody's fault. The roads were slippery and dangerous, and the race should have been neutralised long before the crash. The officials should have neutralised the race on GC at least - it was that dangerous. Guys were crashing all day."
One slick roundabout later, Horner was back in the USA with two fractures in his left hand and another surprise; a fractured pelvis.
"Nobody caught the pelvis until a few weeks later when I was back in the States, I had it x-rayed because the leg was still sore, and they said, 'no wonder your leg is sore, you have a broken pelvis!'
"All of them are just fractures [not displaced] so they'll heal up on their own. I just can't be aggressive with them. Stay off the bike for a little while. Once the pain stops, you know you can start riding again."
"So that's all I've been doing lately is trying heal up and get back for the last week of racing in Lombardia," explained Horner.
"I think Lombardia is my best shot - it's hard enough, and I will have some racing and then another week of recovery to find some form before it. The big 'if' is whether I can make it over there with the fracture healed in time. I've been training on the road for a few days this week, and I still have three weeks before the start of the first race, then a week to Lombardia after that."
Horner brushed aside the constant string of setbacks as if recovering from broken bones was an everyday occurance - which it very nearly has been - with a steely determination and a good sense of humour.
"It hasn't been that difficult. Every time I've come back to form pretty fast. One week riding easy and two weeks riding hard, and the form comes along. It's worked out alright, but the problem is just staying upright so it doesn't happen!"
Next year, Horner hopes to be able to get in a full season of "big boy races": Paris-Nice, Pais Vasco, Amstel Gold, La Fleche Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Giro d'Italia or Tour of California, the Tour de France, Tour of Spain and fall Classics.
It's a heavy schedule for a younger rider, much less that of one who will be one of the oldest racers in the pro peloton. Yet Horner isn't ready to stop even after next season and fully intends to go on for another two years at least when he'll hit 40 years of age.
"My next contract will lead me up to that, so yeah! I'll absolutely keep going. As long as I'm still going fast, I'm not going to plan on stopping; nine to five work ain't better than what I'm doing, so why would I quit?"
Horner on the UCI's proposed radio ban:
"They want to take away radios, but they don't worry about us racing in conditions that are way too dangerous.
"It's a stupid thing to do in my opinion. The riders don't want it, with the exception of the French guys. Outside of that, I'm sure 90 percent of the guys don't want the ban.
"There is no reason not to know what's going on in the race. If you want to say you won the race because nobody knew who was up the road, that's great, but can you be proud of that?
"If you win you want to be the best that day and know that the guys attacking you are the guys who are the best - not because you snuck off. It doesn't make much of a story when you tell it to your grandkids."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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