Horner to Airgas-Safeway?

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The 2013 Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner has secured a team for the 2015 season and, according to media reports, the team concerned is set to make an imminent announcement.

Horner’s agent Baden Cooke has been searching for several months for a ride for him for 2015, and said recently that there was a strong chance he would compete for an American team next season. Cooke confirmed to VeloNews yesterday that this is indeed the case.

In recent weeks a number of the biggest US-based teams have denied they will be signing Horner. Jelly Belly told VeloNews it didn’t have the money, while Optum Pro Cycling said to CyclingTips that it had ‘zero interest.’ UnitedHealthcare said that it hadn’t been in communication with him about a deal and that its roster was full.

A spokesman for the BMC Racing Team told CyclingTips today that he was unaware of any talks with the rider, while the Hincapie Development Team told this site he would not be offered a deal this year or in the future.

In addition to that, the Bissell Development Team confirmed today that it doesn’t plan a change to its policy of focussing on young riders, and thus didn’t sign Horner.

“This program was founded as an under 23 development team and has continued to be that since 2009,” its Marketing Director Nick Shuley told CyclingTips. “Our goal is to develop the best young riders on the planet. We have more news coming in December about next season. However we will continue to be an under 23 development team.”

Team Smartstop Pro Cycling has confirmed that it has had no contact with either Horner or Cooke.

Pending the announcement, there are a number of reasons to believe that the Continental team Airgas-Safeway could be the rider’s new destination. Although it competed as a small squad in 2014, team principal Chris Johnson said in a recent press release that the team would step things up significantly.

“2014 was our first year as a UCI team and we were able to compete in over 20 states throughout the U.S. and in South Africa. In 2015 we will concentrate on a number of high-level events and are very grateful to add Safeway as co-sponsor.”

He added that the team hoped to compete in top US events such as the USA Pro Challenge and Amgen Tour of California.

To do that it will need two things; an expanded budget and big name riders. It secured the former when Safeway was confirmed as co-sponsor five days ago; the grocery company has1,331 stores in the US and last year had annual sales of $35.1 billion.

According to Cooke, the Australian told Cyclingnews that the squad concerned was an ‘up and coming team.’ That too ticks the box, as does the fact that said team is currently making roster announcements one by one on its Facebook page.

In addition to that, Bart Bowen will be the director for next season. The former pro is based in Bend, Oregon; Horner also lives there.

If the team does indeed sign Horner, it will boost its chances of an invite to the US races it is targeting next season. Some see this as a potential farewell ride for Horner; however both he and his agent Baden Cooke have indicated that if he did compete with a smaller team in 2015, that it would be done with a view to being part of a bigger setup the following year.

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