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By Andrew Hood
Chris Horner will finally get a crack at the GC in a grand tour when the Vuelta a España clicks into gear on Saturday in Holland.
That’s according to Astana sport director Sean Yates, who said the team will let Horner give it a stab for the overall classification.
“Horner has progressed a lot this year, but he hasn’t had a chance to show on his own what he can do in the GC because he’s always been working for others,” Yates said. “I think he’s very motivated for the Vuelta. First he has to avoid a crash and then it’s a question of following.”
Horner has stepped up in 2009, riding with the best throughout the season, but his performances have been short-circuited with a pair of nasty falls. He hit the deck hard during the Tour of the Basque Country in April, just avoiding a major injury.
He was able to bounce back for the Giro d’Italia in May and quickly revealed he was on great form, only to crash out again. In July, despite recovering in time for the Tour de France, Horner was not selected for Astana’s nine-man Tour squad.
Yates expects Horner to be back at his best for the three-week Vuelta, where a tough final week should prove decisive on who wears the golden jersey when the Vuelta concludes September 20 in Madrid.
“I cannot say that we’re going to win this race, but we have a strong team and we can expect to perform well, do well in the team classification and win a few stages,” Yates said. “That final week is very hard. It’s a question of following and then seeing who has the legs in the last mountain stages.”
Last year, Astana finished one-two in the Vuelta, with Alberto Contador winning the race to complete the “grand tour triple crown” and Levi Leipheimer taking second overall.
Neither Contador nor Leipheimer are back, but Yates said Astana will be in the mix, if not quite in the front line, just behind following the top teams.
“We have a strong team for the Vuelta, but we don’t have that big star rider. We don’t have a Basso or a Valverde,” Yates said. “We do have Alex (Vinokourov) and (Haimar) Zubeldia, who have proven track records in grand tours.”
Yates also said the team will have none of the internal strife that plagued the team during the recent Tour de France, when Contador and Lance Armstrong butted heads on and off the bike.
“We are a unit and we will ride as a unit,” Yates said. “There will be no problems with personnel. We want to perform well and liven up the race.”
Astana – Vuelta a España, 2009
31. Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz)
32. Jesus Hernandez (Spa)
33. Christopher Horner (USA)
34. Maxim Iglinsky (Kaz)
35. Assan Bazayev (Kaz)
36. Daniel Navarro (Spa)
37. José Luis Rubiera (Spa)
38. Michael Schär (Swi)
39. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa)