By Chris Horner, Saunier Duval-Prodir professional cycling team
Editor’s Note: Ordinarily a regular feature in VeloNews magazine, we figured that Chris Horner’s most recent “Talking the talk” column is timely enough to warrant a bit of attention on VeloNews.com and would go a long way toward answering the spate of “Where’s Horner?” letters filling up our mailbox. We’ll post this one on-line, but for die-hard Horner fans, you’ll usually have to check the magazine, where his column will appear throughout the 2005 season.
Now we’re into the season and we’re starting to see which teams have started the year with good form and which teams are waiting for later. Of course, riders on Rabobank and CSC are going to need good form right away. With these two teams you know that someone is going to be on winning form, so if that guy isn’t you, it is going to be you on the front all day riding for your leader. Either way, your form needs to be very good from the start of the season with those teams.
My start to the season was at Tirreno-Adriatico. There I got to see firsthand the Rabobank team working with its team leader Oscar Freire. He was quite impressive, winning three stages and taking the overall. And remember, this is the same guy who won the world championships last October. I think it is safe to say that the “curse of the rainbow jersey” does not apply to Freire this year.
The other big race going on at the same time was Paris-Nice, where CSC showed how to take Bobby Julich to the win with good teamwork. Both of these races showed how prepared each team came into the season, and how teamwork can help win a stage race.
For me, it wasn’t long before I ended up in bed watching Tirreno on TV. I went down in stage 2 and injured my left leg. I started the next day, but after the race I needed two guys to carry me to my hotel room.
Sometimes you need to know when not to race, and this was one of those times. The x-rays the next day showed negative for any breaks or fractures at the time of the accident, but a month later though the leg was still hurting badly, so I came back to the States and went for a MRI, which showed a fracture in the hip area.
Since that crash, my training and racing have all been greatly affected. After a crash it’s always difficult to decide the best way to deal with the injury. Should you continue racing and slow the recovery? Or stop training and racing in order to recover quickly, knowing you’ll lose the form you’ve gained?
This is a difficult time for anyone who is an athlete. Your own wish to perform well and the pressure from your team to ride all start to have an effect on you. But at this point, one has to put themselves before the team, remembering that the ideal is to get better faster, which will in turn benefit the team the most.
I raced at Setmana Catalana before coming home, but was basically pedaling with one leg, and was lucky to pull out a top-20 finish. My next big race is the Tour de Georgia, where it looks like an American showdown is building up.
With Lance, Floyd, Levi and Bobby all supposedly showing up, all the big American guns are on the start roster. This could be the first time when all the top U.S. riders are together at the same time. With six ProTour teams and the best U.S. teams all coming, this should be the best edition yet.
Prodir, my Saunier Duval team’s secondary sponsor, is also a major sponsor of the Tour of Georgia this year. This, along with the team’s sending me to the race as the team leader, is quite enough pressure alone to perform well. With that in mind, and the injury of the leg healing at a very slow rate, one can understand the added pressure an athlete can be put under.
So without the possibility of a month off to recover, I’ve been training less than I’m used to and resting more. I hope that these weeks before the event I have been able to bring my form back up. But I know it is going to be a close call, and I’m sure that I won’t know if the form has arrived until the first big climb of the race.
One thing is for certain: I will give it my best. The Tour de Georgia’s course this year has changed slightly from last, with the main change being that the time trial day is the only race that day, whereas last year it was a double stage. This allows for guys to recover for the event better and in return should see closer times.
I don’t think that strategy will change much from last year. Discovery Channel will likely control the race each day until the sprinters’ teams take over and decide the winner of each of the flat stages. Then the time trial will arrive, and this is where we will see the race for the GC begin.
If Lance wins the time trial, like he did last year, then the next days will be very controlled until the final climbs starts. But if someone like Nathan O’Neill, Bobby J, Floyd or Levi were to win the time trial then we would see some exciting racing the next few days, for certain. Also, with the bigger ProTour teams coming, we might see a surprise from another Euro’ rider. Either way, this year will be exciting.
As for myself at Georgia this year, I’m hoping that I will have adjusted the training in order to be properly recovered and going at 100 percent by race day. Last year I was a bit overcooked by the time Georgia arrived, with Sea Otter ending only two days before. So who knows? Maybe with the injury forcing me to back-off a little, it will leave me more rested. One thing is for sure though, only time will tell. It always does.
See ya out there.