After finishing third during Thursday's stage four summit finish at the Tour of Utah, Lampre-Merida's Chris Horner said he saw positive signs he is recovering from a chest infection that he picked up before the Tour de France.
The 2013 Vuelta a Espana winner said he believes he's on schedule to be in peak form for his Vuelta defense, which will start on August 23.
“The altitude does the lungs pretty good,” Horner said. “I could feel it, but they were never collapsing on me. That was the difference between here and the Tour: the lungs were keeping open okay. Only on the flatter part with the big accelerations did I have any problems. On the climb, though, because of how steep it is the power is steady and regular, so it's easy on the lungs.”
Horner was alone with Danielson going up the 11km final climb to Powder Mountain that hit grades of up to 16%, but when the Garmin-Sharp leader put in a hard surge about halfway up the climb, Horner was unable to match the pace. While Danielson rode away, BMC's Ben Hermans got back on terms with Horner, and the pair rode together to the line, finishing 56 seconds behind the new overall leader.
“I was pretty much digging,” Horner said of his initial climbing duel with Danielson. “I was doing everything I could. I wasn't holding anything back for the Vuelta. I just knew when I came off I was close to blowing, and if you blow up at altitude it's over.”
Horner fought his chest infection through the Tour de France, actually starting a round of antibiotics before the French race.
“This is my third round of antibiotics,” he said Thursday. “I think I've been on a steady stream of antibiotics since probably about 10 days before the Tour de France. So from 10 days before the Tour until now, I'm sure there's been some kind of antibiotics in my system the whole time. So whatever I got I can't seem to clear up. Not a good idea to race your bike in the Tour de France and then come here and still try and get healthy. It's a little bit hard, but it comes with the job sometimes.”
Trying to recover from illness at the race that bills itself as America's toughest – it features 17,637 meters of elevation gain over 1,207km – is a big ask, but Horner believes he's headed in the right direction.
“Clearly there was good power up the climb today, so I can't complain much,” he said after Thursday's stage. “And I think I'm on the right path to win the Vuelta. It's unfortunate that I don't finish the antibiotics until this race is over.”
Horner hasn't counted himself out for a shot at the overall win in Utah. There are two major climbing stages remaining which give him reasons to hope. Saturday will be very similar to the stage Horner won last year and took the race lead. The 172.6km route from Salt Lake City to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort includes three KOMs and an out-of-category climb to the finish. Sunday's final stage includes two climbs: the category 2 ascent through Wolf Creek Ranch, and the out-of-category climb of Empire Pass.
“Danielson's really good, so it's going to be hard,” Horner said. “I'd need him to blow up, or maybe some tactics or something like that. Somebody goes up the road and he has to chase on one of the days where we get more of a headwind. Certainly the last stage has more stair steps, so if there's a point where he's without teammates and he blows up, then it could be different. But for now he's the best climber in the race.”