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From the pages of Velo: California Kid (analysis of the 2011 Amgen Tour)

Editor’s Note: This story initially appeared in the July 2011 issue of  VeloNews Magazine. For more on our award-winning print publication, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, click here.

“Hey, your boys writing the articles for Cali do remember that I was 4th last year, I’m the highest-ranked U.S. rider in the world, and am going to drop all your favorites.”

Less than a week before the 2011 Amgen Tour of California, RadioShack’s Chris Horner sent the above in an e-mail in regards to a VeloNews.com Amgen Tour preview, which named Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), Christian Vande Velde and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo), Tejay van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) and Linus Gerdemann (Leopard-Trek) among the GC heavyweights to take the start in Lake Tahoe.

Horner’s name was not mentioned.

A week later, on the slopes of Sierra Road, the first-ever summit finish of the Amgen Tour, Horner did just what he said he would — he dropped all the favorites, including Leipheimer, a three-time winner of the race. Afterwards, he said he’d been “unappreciated” during his career, and had felt “insulted” that he hadn’t been invited to the pre-race press conference.

Horner doesn’t always predict he’ll win, and he’s equally as candid when he’s not on form, or if he makes a tactical mistake. But the thing about Horner — and his teammates, directors, friends and rivals will all agree with this — is that he’s a realist, and he’s rarely wrong, about anything.

And while he’s probably one of the most sincerely positive people you may ever meet — he is always smiling, even when racing full-gas — emotion plays little role in Horner’s actions, decisions or conclusions. Instead, everything he does, on and off the bike, is based around known quantities. When describing his abilities as a rider, his words may come across as cocky in print, but in person, in context, they come across as simple matters of fact.

“I think it’s hilarious when people get away from facts,” Horner said about his penchant for truth. “A lot of things in life are just all about the facts. Most, actually.”

And the fact was, heading into the Amgen Tour of California, Horner was flying. His brash pre-race prediction wasn’t, in his mind, braggadocio, but rather, a frank statement.

“I knew what my SRM was telling me when I was out training, and the SRM doesn’t lie. It’s facts, it’s undeniable,” Horner said, adding that he is his own coach, and that before he began using a power meter in 2008, his “scientific” training method involved timing himself up favorite climbs with a stopwatch. “You see the numbers, you know what they do in the big races, and you know you’re going to be good.”

In California, Horner wasn’t just good, he was the best in the race, taking one of the biggest wins of a 16-year professional career that only seems to get better with time.

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