With no contract in sight, is it game over for Horner?
He’s faced an uphill battle to find contracts for the past two seasons and now, with nothing yet resolved for 2016, Chris Horner could be about to end his time as a professional rider.
The 44 year old American rider took his career-best result in September 2013, winning the Vuelta a España. He said then he wanted to race for five more years but that looks increasingly unlikely. According to L’Equipe on Friday, his agent Baden Cooke has been unable to find a new deal and has advised him to retire. [Note: see a subsequent interview with Baden Cooke here].
Horner’s Vuelta a España win was unexpected, not least because he was 42 years of age at the time.
He had been part of the RadioShack-Leopard team, which morphed into Trek Factory Racing, but his salary expectations were too high.
He and Cooke sought other offers but struggled to attract the contract he felt he deserved as a Grand Tour winner. He finally signed for Lampre-Merida at the end of January 2014, racing there for the season.
However his time there was complicated, to say the least. He was hit by a car while out training in April of that year, suffering a concussion plus other injuries. While he was able to ride that year’s Tour de France, he had to be content with 17th overall.
After netting second in the Tour of Utah, he hoped to show what he could do in the Vuelta. However he was unable to start after pre-race tests identified abnormal cortisol levels.
While these were not an issue for the UCI, who carried out the tests, Lampre-Merida was a member of the MPCC anti-doping organisation, which has rigid rules concerning such levels. His participation was consequently blocked.
Horner said that the abnormal levels were caused by the treatment he had undergone for bronchitis hampering him during and after the Tour.
The developments plus his age complicated the search for a new contract. He left Lampre-Merida and, unable to find another offer, eventually moved to the small US Airgas-Safeway squad.
It put a lot of its budget into covering his salary but expectations that it would get an invite into big US events such as the Tour of California and the US Pro Cycling Challenge due to Horner’s presence proved inaccurate.
He finished fourth on a stage and ninth overall in the Tour of the Gila, third and fifth on stages plus fourth overall in the Tour of Azerbaijan and fifth in the US national road race championships.
Subsequent placings of fifth on the final two stages of the Tour of Utah plus the same position in the general classification have not been enough to secure him a new deal, and have put him in a position where he is facing retirement despite a desire to keep racing.
After 19 years racing as a pro, it appears that Horner’s time in the peloton may well be over.
See follow up here: Cooke: Chris Horner hasn’t decided to retire, he is aiming to race next year