Vuelta a Espana

Horner takes confidence from Utah to the Vuelta

American says he's among the GC contenders as the Vuelta sets out for the mountains on Saturday

Chris Horner is going to give the Vuelta a España his best shot, and he’s carrying his trademark confidence into the three-week Spanish tour.

The 41-year-old American finished second overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah earlier this month, winning a stout climbing stage in the process, up to Snowbird ski area. The result and his form after a summer hampered by a knee injury have the American in high spirits before the Vuelta.

“I think I’m going to be in very good condition. It’s a matter now of just coming out of Utah and getting a few more days training … then a few good days rest before the Vuelta starts,” he told VeloNews. “I think I should be in very good form there. It should be a fun three weeks. Hopefully there’s no mishaps or crashes there. The upside with the Vuelta is that we start climbing early, almost right away. So that should settle the field down a little bit so the crashes during that first week don’t really exist like the Tour de France.”

For Horner, Utah served as a tune up, though a difficult one, at high altitude. Before the race, he pointed back to a cold, wet day on a steep climb at Tirreno-Adriatico as the source of a knee injury that kept him out of racing for four months.

“That’s what made the whole week so fun, was just being back on my bike. I started training, and the knee went bad. I started training and the knee went bad. I started training and the knee went bad. And then the surgery, started training, and finally the knee was good. It’s really nice to finally start training and feel the fitness come good,” he said. “Bike racing is always hard. There’s no doubt about that. And anytime you’re at altitude — it’s a different beast of bike racing when you’re at altitude than when you’re at sea level. It’s much easier on the flat stages and stuff like that. When you’re at altitude you always feel uncomfortable the whole day.”

Horner said he’s never been good at altitude, but was not worried about his form headed into the Tour of Spain.

“When you’re over in Europe it doesn’t really exist. You go from zero, and maybe you go up high, but you only stay up there for 30 minutes and you’re done,” he said. “You never feel good at altitude. I’m not good — I’ve never been good at getting results at altitude. That’s kind of what made it a little more special. It was like, ‘wow, I’m at altitude, and could get some results, too.’ Because I just don’t race at altitude that often.”

The Vuelta begins on Saturday with the stage 1 team time trial. The race features 13 mountain stages, and most of them end uphill. It will be hot, steep, and sharply difficult. And Horner likes his chances. He pegged himself as one of the favorites, along with 2010 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who’s already won a grand tour in the Giro d’Italia this year, 2009 Vuelta champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who suffered from bad luck at the Tour, and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), a podium finisher in each of his last three grand tours.

“It’s going to be a good field. It always is a good field. It’s a grand tour,” he said.