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Horner on Tour selection snub: ‘My back is fine’

Hours after learning that his RadioShack-Nissan team had not included him on its list of riders pre-selected for the Tour de France due to a back injury, American veteran Chris Horner told VeloNews that his back is no longer hurting him, and that he would have been ready to race come the Tour’s June 30 start in Liège, Belgium.

Horner’s team said Monday that back problems, which flared up last month following the Amgen Tour of California, had prevented him from racing the Tour de Suisse and therefore made it unfeasible for him to race the Tour.

“Already at California, his back was not OK. That is also the reason why he is not in the Tour de Suisse this week,” RadioShack spokesman Philippe Maertens told VeloNews on Monday. “Without racing Suisse, it would be impossible for him to race in the Tour de France.”

Horner acknowledged that he took a week off the bike following California to treat his lower back — forcing him to skip the May 31 road race at the USA Cycling Professional National Championships — but he said that he had since returned to training and he had opted to skip Suisse, as he did last year, to fully concentrate on being at his best for the Tour.

“My back is fine,” Horner said. “There is no problem with my back. It was tight after California. It spasms up from time-to-time. I needed five days to rest it, so I took a week off the bike. I could have shown up to Suisse but I wouldn’t have had form.

“If the Tour de France was a month later, I could do Suisse, recover, and then train again. But the finish of Suisse is 10 days before the Tour, so it was better to just train and focus on doing that. I trained hard last week, I rode 600 miles, and I rode 100 miles today.”

Horner, who will turn 41 in October, has dealt with intermittent lower back problems since 2006, adding that the only time he’s ever missed a race because of the pain was the 2008 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré. That year his Astana team had been excluded from the Tour, and Horner instead spent his July supporting his teammate Levi Leipheimer at the Cascade Cycling Classic, which Leipheimer won.

Horner’s best Tour ride was ninth overall in 2010. He crashed out of last year’s edition with a concussion. Later doctors discovered a potentially dangerous embolism in his lung and he didn’t return to racing until this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished second overall.

Horner said he learned about his exclusion from the RadioShack Tour team from his wife, who read it on the Internet and called him while he was out training. He added that as of Monday evening, he had not yet spoken with anyone from RadioShack team management. The last time he spoke with team manager Johan Bruyneel, Horner said, was a month earlier in Santa Rosa, California, when Bruyneel briefly visited the team prior to the start of the Amgen Tour.

“While I’m out doing a 100-mile training ride, I’m told that my back is wrecked beyond competing at the Tour de France,” Horner said. “As bike racers, you want to do the Tour more than any other race. By all means I can understand the team being concerned about a back problem, but my therapist was able to get it back under control, and at almost three weeks out, it’s still early to make that kind of decision.”

With Horner’s permission, Greg Bourque — a licensed acupuncturist and certified massage therapist who has treated Horner since 1997 — described Horner’s back issues as general erector spine tightening, absent of signs of sciatica or neurological dysfunction.

“I’ve treated Chris seven days a week since the Amgen Tour of California, for 90 minutes nightly, and after the first week, we didn’t even really focus on his back,” Bourque said. “I moved on to a knee treatment, and some general neuromuscular work, focusing on soft tissue — not joints or ligaments, just muscles.

“Lately it was not even therapeutic massage, because he was riding 100 miles a day,” Bourque continued. “It was not even deep work, nothing fancy, just a drainage massage to get him ready for the next day of training. He was doing everything right to look after himself. I know him really well, and I fully expected him to be ready for the Tour — and I fully expected him to be going to the Tour. And I know he did as well.”

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