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Chris Horner is balancing love and money

Race for love? Race for money? For Chris Horner, it’s time to decide.

He’s doing what he always does this time of year: training. Horner just fled his wintry Bend, Oregon, home in favor of his San Diego house and has been riding in shorts, tuning up for the season ahead.

But the thing is, what that season looks like isn’t clear. At all. He doesn’t have a team for 2014 after RadioShack-Leopard moved on, even after the 42-year old turned in a sterling ride in Spain to win his first ever grand tour, and become the eldest winner of a three-week tour in the process. Horner came into the off-season asking a pretty penny for his services, but so far has found it hard to find a ride. He’s riding now as if he’ll be trying to win the Giro d’Italia next year, or repeat in Spain.

“Normally I don’t come down until about the first of January,” he said of his pilgrimage south. “But because of the cracked ribs from the worlds I basically didn’t train for seven weeks or something like that. I started training in Bend, but the weather got so cold I just decided we’d come down to San Diego earlier.”

Horner suffered fractured ribs in a crash on wet roads at the world championships in Florence, Italy, in late September. After the time away, and after the biggest ride of his career at the Vuelta, Horner said he’s feeling good. “I probably just need two, three weeks, or something and I’ll start to feel some really good form. Ribs are good. Legs are good. The weight’s fantastic. So I don’t think it’ll take too long to get fit,” he told VeloNews.

His body, then, is good. Or as good as it gets for a career racer at the age of 42. But how about the head?

“Ha. I mean, you just have to basically — that’s why you have an agent, too. So I don’t have to sit on the phone call and make calls with different teams and talk with them. That’s what you pay the agent to do. For me, I just go out and ride the bike. Most of the time when it comes to the head, the more difficult things are then your friends are like, ‘hey, who you signing for … what are you doing?’ You’re like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. …”

It’s been a long period of not knowing. Horner won the Vuelta in September, his picture is still up on the RadioShack website, and yet he heads into the Christmas holiday without a team, facing a rough market. Horner initially thought he was riding for the Formula One driver Fernando Alonso, when he attempted to save the Euskaltel-Euskadi team from fading away, but that fell through. By then, it was every man for himself, and the affable — but undeniably old, relatively speaking — Horner found himself asking for a big deal in a harsh climate. “Who knows. Maybe I’m working at 7-Eleven,” he joked.

His price has come down since, but it still may be too high for the current market, with teams folding and fewer teams having to reach for a rider’s WorldTour points. “The biggest thing, of course, is that there was 18 ProTour spots, and there was always 21, 22 teams that were fighting to be that. Then your UCI points were worth quite a bit. But basically, my UCI points aren’t worth anything,” he said.

“Everybody knows you dropped the price. Every pro team out there knows that. I literally think if you’re a grand tour winner, you’re worth 1.5 million [euros],” said Horner. “Clearly I’m not out there asking for that. I’ve got my agent out there looking for 750,000. Clearly if he can find it with a team that does the program that we like, that’s great. And If we have to take less — at some point in time I’d imagine he’d have to email the teams and say, ‘well, he’s still on the market, make us an offer.’… That’s just the way it is,” Horner said.

He remains open to opportunity. Horner said he was open to racing for UCI Continental teams at the major domestic races, but that he hoped for another chance at a grand tour.

“There’s only a few reasons to sign with a team. It’s either love or money, or a combination of both. You’ve got to pay the bills … so you’ve got to think of something financially. So clearly it’d be nice to find a team with a lot of love, too, that wants to give you the schedule of races that I want to do. I’d like to do the ProTour races and stuff like that,” he said. “But what I’d like to do is go back and get a shot — I wouldn’t mind doing the Giro, or Spain, for sure. If I found a Pro Continental team that did those and some of the Spanish races, too, that’d be ideal.”

Predictably, when asked about the Giro d’Italia, Horner thought he could win. Same with the Vuelta. Why not? Those races are long on climbs and short on flat time trials.

“I think I could win either/or,” he said. “You look at the Tour de France and it’s difficult because the time trials are just too long. I can’t make up that kind of time other places, in the mountains. It’s too hard. I’m going to lose four minutes … how do you make up four minutes?”

Horner is also confident he’ll find a ride. It may be for less money than he’d like. “But maybe instead of signing for money, you’re signing for love,” he said. “It’ll be something like that. But I’d imagine something comes through. And if not, it’s not like I’m in a financial bind, so that part’s no stress. I’ll just have to race amateur I guess for fun. … Remember, I can do masters 40-plus races. Maybe I’ll win a masters world championship like that or something. We’ll see.”

Which group of riders will be looking over its collective shoulder come springtime? The pros, or American masters racers? For money, or for love?

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