Chris Horner, the winner of the 2013 Vuelta a España, has signed a contract for the 2015 season with the US Continental squad Airgas-Safeway. Horner was strongly linked to the team by process of elimination after his agent, Baden Cooke, stated that they were negotiating with a US team, and most of the other professional teams had denied signing him.
The 43-year-old was left without a team when Lampre-Merida chose not to renew his contract, just as RadioShack did after his Grand Tour victory in 2013. For the second year in a row, Horner's plans for the next season came down to the wire, with Cooke inking a deal late in the transfer season.
“I am very excited to be joining Airgas-Safeway for 2015,” Horner said in a press release. “I have achieved a huge amount of success in my career and I’m incredibly proud of that. For me, the next chapter isn’t just about what I can do as an individual, but what I can give back to cycling as a sport. I had a number of options for this year and what really struck me about Airgas-Safeway was their utter commitment to giving the next generation of young riders the opportunity for success.”
It is not the first time that Horner signed with a relatively unknown team after success at a high level. In 2003, Horner was the champion of the Tour de Georgia and the top-ranked rider in the USA, but stayed at the Continental level after his Saturn team ended, signing with the Webcor squad.
Horner was picked up by the Saunier-Duval team at the end of 2004, and raced there for the full 2005 season before moving onto Lotto, then Astana, each for two years. He then spent four seasons with RadioShack, culminating in his Vuelta victory.
The Airgas-Safeway team grew out of Chris Johnson's D3 Devo-Airgas team, which recently signed the grocery giant as a title sponsor for 2015.
Johnson told Cyclingnews last week that Airgas-Safeway would target invitations to America's biggest stage races next season. The addition of Horner, a former winner of the Tour of California, will go a long way toward convincing the organisers to extend an invitation.
“2015 is shaping up to be a fun year with great racing and more time at home with my family, including the new baby we have on the way in January,” Horner said. “I can’t wait to race with a group of excited young pros - their enthusiasm will make the season fun and exciting.”
The team has also added Horner's fellow Bend, Oregon resident Bart Bowen as a full-time director, and Mexican champion Luis Lemus, formerly of Jelly Belly.
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