Can Chris Horner repeat at the Vuelta? He likes...

Horner Q&A: Father time, the Tour, and the Vuelta defense

American Chris Horner is riding the Tour, but he’s focusing on defending his Vuelta a Espana title starting next month

BAGNÉRES-DE-LUCHON, France (VN) — With each falling star from the Tour de France, the Vuelta a Espana has the potential to burn a little brighter, and with more drama.

Chris Froome (Sky) may ride. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) isn’t on in France, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will redouble his efforts. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is on the fence. Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida), however, is in — in a big way. At 42, he aims to repeat as champion, but the order is a tall one.

As usual, Horner is undaunted. VeloNews caught up with him before the start of stage 15 in Tallard.

VeloNews: It’s getting tougher to repeat. Wouldn’t you say?
Horner: I beat Nibali last year. He’s winning here this year. It is what it is. It’s always going to be harder when you add more competition, too. So that’s definitely the case.

Honestly, when I got hit in the tunnel a few months back, I thought if I broke my arms or legs that was the end of my career right there. So for sure you’re not making Spain. Froome, with a hand problem, small fracture, I’ve had that before. Been back on the bike right away but that doesn’t mean I had exactly what he has. It can definitely change things. But clearly, the competition could get better. Which is good — that’s what everybody wants. Which is what you want, you want to beat the best in the world. That’s why I’m at the Tour de France to begin with, so you can race against the best. But really last year to this year the only completion that you would really start to change is bringing Alberto and bringing Froome. Other than that we had Joaquim Rodriguez at his best, Valverde at his best, Nibali, OK, maybe he was a kilo heavy or something like that but he still did go on — all three of those guys went on to dominate the world championships, too, so you know they were on their best form.

Nibali, here I think we’re seeing maybe a slightly better version of him than what I raced against in Spain. Possibly. He looks like he’s a little bit lighter. That doesn’t always mean you’re better, but usually it’s a good sign.

VN: How are they different, the Tour and Vuelta?
CH: They’re completely different courses. They’re not the same. They’re absolutely different. The mountains are different. The first week wears you out in the Tour before you even get to the mountains, whereas in Spain you’ve already worn out those big, flat guys … the sprinters and all. You’ve already worn them out before they even get to a field sprint. They can’t do so much damage to me on the flat days like they did here in the Tour, so I arrive in the mountains fresher.

VN: You seem to like your chances?
CH: If I can recover outta here. Whatever the bronchitis thing that happened … if I can get outta here and recover, then I like my chances. I think it should be good. I’ll go back to the U.S. and I’ll be in the heat, finally, for the first time all year. Hopefully there’s no more car accidents in the dark tunnels and everything should be good.

Honestly, I have really good form here, I’m just sick. When you look at what I’ve done — and I’m still a little heavy and how soon it is since I left the ER, I’m very, very happy with my form. I just got sick. … The lungs just aren’t breathing 100 percent, which a few of us have it on the team. Who knows, maybe we picked up some cow s—t on the Paris-Roubaix stage.

VN: Say you win the Vuelta. Will you just call it a walk-off home run and retire right there?
CH: No no. I love — that stuff is hilarious. I hear it all the time. F—k that man. You might have another win left in you. I want to win again.

VN: But how about going out on top? There’s something to be said for that.
CH: [In the Alps] I was climbing with the Tour de de France in the front group. So where’s the top? And then is the top when you win the tour of Spain at 42 or when you win the tour of Spain when you’re 44?

VN: At some point your wife will make you stop.
CH: Yeah. That’s a possibility … sooner or later, father time gets ahold of everybody. I’m just kicking his ass the last six years or so.

VN: They say time waits for no man.
CH: He waited for me.