Horner was stopped from lining up for the defence of his Vuelta crown after a pre-race test highlighted low levels of cortisol in his system. The rider had been treating a bout of bronchitis with a prescribed, and UCI-approved, dose of cortisone prior to the race. However, the treatment lowered his cortisol levels enough to breach the MPCC’s (Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Credible) rules, meaning the American was forced to sit out the race.
“Chris was going very well and was coming into some top form. I think we would have seen him make the top five in the Vuetla, no problem,” Baden Cooke told Cyclingnews.
Horner, 42, was aiming to become the oldest grand tour winner in cycling history, beating a record he set in 2013. With a one-year deal at Lampre-Merida set to expire in December, Horner was looking to the Vuelta to turn around what has been a season plagued by illness and injury. He was hit by a car in the spring and suffered serious injuries that ruled him out of the Giro d’Italia. Illness in the Tour affected his form too, meaning the search for results saw the onus fall on the Vuelta.
“If you get top five in the Vuela you’re in a pretty good position but we obviously don’t have that result to play with.”
Lampre told Cyclingnews last week that contract extensions and renewals for several riders would be put on hold until September as the Italian outfit look to build for the coming season. Cooke believes that despite Horner’s lack of results so far, he has brought enough to the team to justify another year in the saddle for the team.
“Lampre, all year have said that they’re pretty keen to keep him and that he’s a great leader and role model for the younger guys. So hopefully there will be an offer there in the coming weeks.
“He had a massive crash earlier in the year. Then he got sick at the Tour and he was just coming here and trying to get a result. It’s just been one thing after another. He’s been training like a machine and living like a monk with plenty of seven-hour rides. You have to feel for the guy.”
Cooke came to Horner’s aid at the end of 2013 when the American was staring retirement in the face. His previous agent had failed to secure a new contract at RadioShack and, despite the Vuelta win, Horner was unable to find a team. Cooke arrived and quickly established a link with Lampre that resulted in a one-year deal. The Australian, and former Tour de France green jersey (2003), thinks that Horner can hold his competitiveness for another year.
“The thing is he’s not getting any slower. He’s going as strong as ever. We just have to lock a team in for next year and I think he’ll be just as good next year in terms of form and fitness. He just needs some better luck, which we all hope is just around the corner.”