Chris Horner expects to be back at the Tour de France this year after being sidelined in 2009 as one of the primary victims in the internal power struggle between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador.
Horner was surprisingly left off Astana’s Tour squad last year, but he fully expects to line up in Rotterdam as part of RadioShack’s starting nine.
And Horner is very clear about what his role will be within the team: help Lance Armstrong win another Tour crown.
“When we arrive at the Tour, Lance knows I am going to be his guardian angel. When it comes to the mountains, I will be there for Lance,” Horner told VeloNews. “I get along with Lance really well. Lance knows that I know what my job is. There is no chance where I wouldn’t work for someone on the team. Everyone on this team knows it.”
RadioShack’s final Tour Nine won’t be officially revealed until after next week’s Tour de Suisse, but Horner is already planning on spending July on the roads of France.
“It’s not going to change anything for me when I get the word. I am going to train as if I am going,” Horner said. “I assume I am going. I couldn’t possibly imagine not being there.”
Horner is back in Europe this week with the Criterium du Dauphiné and is providing excellent support to teammate and race leader Jani Brajkovic.
Horner led the way up Thursday’s Cat. 1 summit finish at Risoul and again up the HC Chamrousse climb in Friday’s stage to help Brajkovic carry the leader’s jersey into the final weekend.
If Horner gets the official nod, it would be his fourth career Tour de France. He made his Tour debut in 2005 as a member of Saunier Duval, nearly winning a stage in a breakaway with Sylvain Chavanel to Montpellier. He then joined Lotto and raced two more Tours in support of Cadel Evans, riding to a career-best 15th overall in 2007.
He’s missed the past two Tours. In 2008, Astana was not invited to the Tour and last year, Horner was the odd man out as team manager Johan Bruyneel tried to build a balance between the Armstrong and Contador camps within Astana. Also missing last year’s Tour was Contador ally and current teammate Benjamin Noval.
“Any time you ride the Tour, you’re happy,” Horner said. “It’s the biggest race in the world. It’s why you race your bike – to go to the Tour.”
Horner, who won the Tour of the Basque Country in April, believes that Armstrong still has possibilities to win the Tour.
“On paper, when you look at where everyone’s form is, no one puts out the watts that Contador does. When you go back, when Lance was in his top form, I am sure he was putting out better watts than Contador is now. Lance just has to come back to where he was, whether he can do that, I don’t know,” he said. “I am 38, going on 39, same age as Lance, my form keeps coming up. He missed three years of racing, but he’s had one season back, so hopefully we’ll see that return of spectacular form. And he can win the Tour for RadioShack.”
Horner also said he hopes Armstrong’s bad luck is behind him. Armstrong has had a bumpier ride in his comeback than during his heyday, something that Horner said he still cannot believe that the Texan never had a major accident during his seven-year Tour run.
“That’s what’s amazing is that Lance did that seven years in a row. We can all ride into July near our best form, but to be that lucky? To never crash, it’s just incredible,” he said. “You look at the year he had last year with a collarbone and this year with getting sick here and there, all of that could have happened when he won the Tour seven years in a row, and it never did. One crash and it’s over. You got to have seven years of that, for a three-month run, May, June and then the Tour. That’s 21 months of never having bad luck. In this sport, that’s unbelievable.”