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Nine North American riders to watch in this year’s Tour de France

Chris Horner (Radioshack-Nissan)

Bend, Oregon
Chris Horner very nearly didn’t make the short-list for this year’s Tour de France. Now he is arguably the top American contender for the overall.

RadioShack manager Johan Bruyneel reversed Horner’s unexpected exclusion from the team’s long list, even after publicly saying that the American’s decision to skip the Tour de Suisse was tantamount to skipping the Tour de France. Days earlier, USA Cycling named Horner to the U.S. National Team for the upcoming London Olympics, his first Olympic berth in 16 years as a professional.

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Suffice to say Horner’s pre-Tour fortunes have taken a rapid turn for the better, and the long training rides that he has occasionally documented on Twitter should have him well prepared for the 2012 Tour. Horner was top-10 overall in the 2010 edition of the race, and won last year’s Amgen Tour of California. While on course to that victory, he said that, “with the exception of Alberto Contador I don’t think there’s anyone that can drop me.”

Horner’s 2011 Tour ended with a heavy crash that resulted in a concussion and a pulmonary embolism. He made his return to racing at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished second overall, in March. Tendonitis and a flare up in a recurring back injury set Horner back later in the spring and his his eighth overall at the Tour of California this year might suggest that his form is not what it was 12 months ago. But Bruyneel clearly had the confidence in Horner’s preparation to select him for the final Tour team — particularly with Andy Schleck missing the race with a fractured pelvis.

It’s unlikely that he will be able to time trial with Evans or Wiggins, but Horner’s abilities in the mountains and his skills in reading a race are second-to-none. If he can drop Evans and Wiggins in the Alps or the Pyrénées to gain a buffer for the stage 19 time trial, he could be a legitimate threat for the overall. Only Horner knows for sure, but if he can regain the form that brought him such confidence (and the win) in last year’s Tour of California, he will definitely be one of the key North Americans to watch for this year’s Tour de France.

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