Sponsor pressure ends Horner's time at Lampre-Merida

The rider, the agent, and the team manager were all willing but pressure from sponsors seems to have been the main reason Chris Horner was not offered a contract renewal at Lampre-Merida for 2015.

The 42-year-old, who has endured a year punctured by illness and injury, is scrambling for a team for the second consecutive season, despite the fact that Lampre-Merida's general manager, Brent Copeland, believes that the rider can finish in the top ten of a Grand Tour.

Despite Horner's injuries this year – he was hit by a car in April, which resulted in him missing the Giro d'Italia, and picked up a virus at the Tour de France – he was Lampre's highest placed rider in the Grand Tours, with 17th overall at the Tour. He missed the chance to defend his 2013 Vuelta a Espana crown due to MPCC rules over low cortisol levels and closed his season at the two Canadian WorldTour races in September.

"I would have liked to have kept him on board but obviously we have various sponsors who we have to keep happy and various requests from them for riders they want," Copeland told Cyclingnews.

"It's not easy to satisfy everyone because there's only a certain amount of space. This wasn't about budget, it was about space. When you only have three spaces available and you've got ten requests it's not just about one rider anymore."

"It wasn't that there were sponsors pushing not to take Chris. It's just that there were sponsors pushing for riders from their territories, like Taiwan and China. However, it's not just a case of taking a rider because a sponsor asks us. We have to look at a number of aspects including the economical side, and the talent of riders within certain territories."

Copeland believes that despite Horner's advancing years the American still has the ability to lead a WorldTour team in a Grand Tour in 2015.

"I still think that Chris can ride a Grand Tour and go for a top ten. That's my personal point of view. It's a real pity because of the sacrifices he's put into his work and the talent that he has," Copeland added.

"I don't know where he will end up next year but I hope he gets a ride because he deserves it. The hardest thing for him is his age and that's not an easy one to confront but his personality and professionalism mark him as a true professional."

The majority of WorldTour teams have already closed shop in the transfer market but Baden Cooke, who pulled a rabbit out of a hat last year when he secured Horner with a one-year deal at Lampre, is still working on two possible leads. One, although Cooke admits is a slight longshot, involves a European Pro Continental team. The second, more likely outcome, could see Horner return to the United States with a domestic team.

"It's a big shame because despite the fact that he's old, he's still stronger than 95 per cent of the peloton. A lot of people also forget that he was hit by a car this year, otherwise we probably would have seen him top five in the Giro d'Italia," Cooke told Cyclingnews from his base in Australia.

"We have a small chance left [with a European team] and then if that doesn't happen he's probably going to go to an American team.

"There's not a massive chance, I'll tell you that much [with the European team]. There's probably more chance of him returning to the US."

In October Copeland told Cylingnews that Horner's chances of remaining at Lampre were "fifty-fifty" but even then Cooke had the impression that the door was quickly closing. He praised Copeland's efforts for trying to re-sign the rider but admitted that he was disappointed with Lampre.

"I know that Brent Copeland did his best to keep Chris on board and he knows how valuable a rider Chris is and made a push for him. It's perhaps a little bit short-sighted on their part in the fact that he was crushed by a car and they should have taken into account that regardless of results he has such a great impact on the younger riders. I think it's going to be their loss but that's their choice. I think Brent did everything he could but it was out of his hands. I'm pretty disappointed."

Like Copeland, Cooke reiterated a belief that Horner could still post a top ten in a Grand Tour in 2015.

"He's coming up to 43 but you can ignore that because he can still do top ten in Grand Tours. Chris isn't complaining though, he's grateful for the chance Lampre gave him last year but he still has the motivation of a 15-year-old and who is to stop him?"

As for Horner's options in the United States, they look uncertain. Cyclingnews understands that both UnitedHealthcare and Smartstop are not in a position to sign the rider although Jelly Belly have expressed some interest.

"If he ends up in the States then he'll show them when he turns out at the Tour of Utah, California and Colorado and is a force to be reckoned with."

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