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He faced a long wait to secure a team but Chris Horner has confirmed that he will compete with the Airgas-Safeway team in 2015, returning to a race programme based around the US circuit.
Horner won the Vuelta a España in 2013 with the Leopard Trek team, but rumoured high salary demands saw he and its successor, Trek Factory Racing, unable to finalise an agreement. He raced instead with the Lampre-Merida squad this season.
After negotiations with that team broke down, he considered other squads and eventually decided he would be based in the US next season. He will be a major part of the Airgas-Safeway team’s push to compete in some of the top American events.
Horner is a past winner of the Tour of California and the team will hope that his 2011 victory plus his 2013 Vuelta win will be enough to secure an invite to the race.
“I am very excited to be joining Airgas-Safeway for 2015,” said Horner in the team announcement. “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.”
Horner had hoped to reach the same form as he showed during the 2013 Vuelta but was hit by a car in April, suffering fractured ribs and a punctured lung.
He returned to racing and finished 14th in the Tour of Slovenia, but was hampered by a chest infection in the Tour de France and finished 17th overall.
Second in the Tour of Utah pointed to what could have been a strong Vuelta title defence, but instead he was prevented from starting the race due to low cortisol levels.
Horner said that the issue was caused by a treatment of cortisone recommended by two specialists in relation to the bronchitis he had suffered for several weeks beforehand. While he said that a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) had been given, his Lampre-Merida team is a member of the MPCC anti-doping organisation and had little choice but to comply with rules which decree that riders with suppressed cortisol levels must take a break from racing.
That essentially made things very difficult for him to find another European contract, and put him on a path which would eventually lead him to Airgas-Safeway.
According to the team principal Chris Johnson, the signing is an important one in helping to shape the future of the project.
“Chris Horner has done it all. This is not only a huge development for our program, but also for cycling fans in the United States,” he stated. “To be able to give a group of young riders the chance to race with a champion like Horner is a dream come true on so many levels.”
Horner turned professional back in 1995 and was National Racing Calendar series winner in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He commenced a long run with European teams in the latter year, spending two seasons with Saunier-Duval, plus the same period of time with Davitamon/Predictor, Astana and RadioShack.
He then became part of the RadioShack-Nissan team in 2012, winning the Vuelta with the squad one year later and then spending that year with Lampre-Merida.
His results include ninth in the 2010 Tour de France, victory in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco in the same season plus a stage win and the overall in the 2011 Tour of California.
“Racing with excited young athletes fits well with my love of the sport, and it will be a great partnership to build for the future,” he said. “I look forward to sharing my racing and tactical experience to help the team race for the win at Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and many other races throughout the season.”
The team competed last year as a relatively small step-up but after Safeway recently came on board, has been working on plans to step up a level in 2015 and to target participation in races such as California plus the USA Pro Cycling Challenge.
“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,” said Horner. “I can’t wait to race with a group of excited young pros — their enthusiasm will make the season fun and exciting.”
The team will have a training camp in California in January, where Horner will meet his 15 team-mates. They come from the US, Canada and Mexico.