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He finished 17th overall in the Tour de France but recovery from the illness which dogged him there plus improving sensations in the Tour of Utah – where he finished third on stage four – have given Chris Horner encouragement that he is on the right track towards the defence of his Vuelta a España title.
While the American rider is 42 years of age and will again be the oldest in the Spanish Grand Tour lineup, he believes that it is possible for him to win once again, and is determined to be on the start line in the best possible shape.
“At the end of the Tour, I was just happy to find my way home safe,” said Horner, speaking about his preparations for the three week race.
“In Oregon, I’m in altitude and I’ll come back to Europe to ride the Vuelta. I want to be back 100% healthy after racing the Tour of Utah like last year.”
The Vuelta will have a glittering lineup; the provisional start list released in recent days by the race organisers showed a very impressive list of general classification riders, with 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Sky), 2013 Tour runner up in that race Nairo Quintana (Movistar), past world number one Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2011 Tour victor Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and this year’s Tour podium finisher Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) all slated to take part.
Others who could fight for the final victory include Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 2013 double stage victor Warren Barguill (Giant Shimano), Critérium du Dauphiné champion Andrew Talansky (Garmin Sharp), climbing specialists Mikel Nieve (Sky), Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing Team), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Fabio Aru (Astana), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing), Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin Pro Cycling Team) and Robert Gesink (Belkin Pro Cycling Team).
There is also the outside chance that Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) might ride, despite his protestations to the contrary. Two people training in Italy at the end of July have told CyclingTips they saw the Spaniard training in the mountains at a time when he and the team were publicly stating that he was unable to do so.
If his preparations are indeed further along than were indicated, it gives him the chance for a change of mind and participation in the race.
Despite that powerful lineup, Horner said that he remains confident about his chances. However he accepts that he will need to make the most of his strong points if he is to once again stand on top of the podium.
“My main concern isn’t who I’ll be racing against,” he said. “I love to race against Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana who are the favourites this year. My problem is time trialing. Because of the time I lose against the clock, I need to make it up in the mountains.”
Fortunately for him, there will be chances to do so. “I love the Vuelta because there’s a lot of space for climbers,” he said. “I love Spain. I love the atmosphere. I’m looking forward to be there again. It’s going to be spectacular. I’m excited.”