By Neal Rogers
VeloNews: How have things been going since we last spoke? You sound as though you’re in pretty good spirits.
Chris Horner: The racing has been going pretty well. The finish today was incredible. All the spectators that were there … you cannot imagine! All of Germany must have been out for it.
VN: Even though it was wet, everyone came out?
CH: Yeah, it was wet from the start to about 70km to go. It was pretty good after that.
VN: It’s funny because when we spoke a few days ago, you said that with everyone fighting for position, you couldn’t imagine how the peloton could continue to ride so fast if it rained. It’s rained in the two days since.
CH: You know, I’ve noticed it actually seems to be safer in the rain. Yesterday it was wet, and obviously everyone crashed there at the finish. But other than that, what’s been happening is, when it’s raining guys aren’t fighting for position so much. Instead of lining up curb to curb, from white line to white line, the bunch is about four bike-widths less, so maybe instead of 20 riders wide, we’re 15 wide. It’s safer … although at the finish, being nice is out of the question. Everyone’s fighting in the final kilometers. Today when we were coming into town, the spectators had to be in the road. They had no choice. It was so packed, there was no place for them to be. At one point the road went from three lanes wide to one-and-a-half, just lined with people.
VN: I bet you can’t wait until you get into the mountain stages, when it’s wall-to-wall people.
CH: I can’t wait to get in the mountains. I’ve heard a lot about the crazy crowds, but I’ve also had enough experience to know that you’re not going by their feet at 60-70 kilometers an hour. You hit a spectator at 60-70 kilometers an hour and no one’s coming out of that in good shape. You can have a collision with someone on the climb and maybe you’ve had a bad day, but you’re going to be able to get back on your bike and keep riding.
VN: Speaking of collisions, were you involved at all in the big pileup yesterday?
CH: No, I wasn’t. I was just behind it, and I slowed down with plenty of time. I’ll tell you, there was something in that [right-hand] corner that was more slippery than anything else we saw that day. After we came to a stop at the crash, I saw a Liquigas rider start pedaling again and his back tire did a 180-degree spin and he flopped straight onto his back. It’s amazing that the Fassa Bortolo rider [Lorenzo Bernucci] made it through. He must have been just the right weight, or had the right tire pressure. It was so wide coming into that turn you didn’t have to have the bike leaned over that much, but there was some kind of extra oil on the road. It could be something as simple as that stretch of road is where everyone stops their cars and starts driving again, and a little oil drips from the pan. There was definitely something in that corner. Guys went down like bowling pins. When I saw that Liquigas rider go down after the pileup, I just put a foot down and took it easy. We were all within the final kilometer, so there was no need to hurry.
VN: What about today’s crash in the final sprint? Where were you during that?
CH: Oh, I saw that one coming. The road was straight in, but there were huge sets of fencing to keep the crowds out, and the road narrowed so there was no place to go. It started to narrow on the right side of the road, and you knew it was coming, and then, yep, there it was. Everyone was fighting for position, and one guy just didn’t make it through. I was up there for a while to see if I could do anything in the sprint, but once I was out of position I started dropping back.
VN: You’ve been known to win a few sprints in the U.S. Have you given any thought to try freelancing one of these field sprints?
CH: [laughs] Nah. My only thinking is sort of like that Fassa Bortolo rider [Lorenzo Bernucci], to make it to the front and see what might come of it. I know I am never going to win a sprint at this level, but maybe I can slide off at the front at 2km to go and get a little gap.
VN: Have you had a chance to catch up with some of the other Americans over there?
CH: Yeah, I talk with Fred Rodriguez [Davitamon-Lotto] all the time. George [Hincapie, Discovery Channel] has got work to, so he’s up at the front watching out for Lance. I might talk to him when he’s dropped back, but that’s about it. But yeah, I talk with Levi [Leipheimer, Gerolsteiner] and Bobby [Julich, CSC] every day.
VN: Have they given you any tips on what to do, what to expect at your first Tour de France?
CH: Everyone says, “It’s just like you heard, huh?” and I tell ‘em, “Yep, pretty much.” It’s just like doing a World Cup race every day. Everything is on the line, and you just have to do whatever it takes.
VN: With those kinds of speeds, do you feel like you are riding yourself into better form?
CH: You know, it feels about the same as when the race started. It’s hard to tell. Everybody has form for these stages [laughs]. They are all flat with small little hills. Everybody can do these stages. Maybe a couple of the smaller Spanish guys don’t ride these stages so well, but 95 percent of the field can ride these stages, so it’s hard to tell where your form is.
VN: Have you been studying the course profile, maybe eyeing a few select stages to try and do something special?
CH: First I want to get through the first mountain stages. Tomorrow [stage 8] is the first day with a real climb, so I’ll at least be able to tell where my form is. Yesterday we had a hard climb at the finish, and I was up there at the front. The legs felt good. I’m hoping that’s the status quo for tomorrow. I’ll have to find out — do I have some climbing legs or am I just going up okay? If I have good legs I can be patient and wait for the mountaintop stages to try to do something. If I don’t have good legs, but they are okay, I’m going to have to go in an early break and hope it survives until the last climb where you can hold everybody off. I am definitely looking at the stages down the road. Between the next few days, you’ll know where your form is for certain. Honestly, I want to just savor the fact that I made it through the first week. We just finished the first week, and everyone has talked about how hard the first week is. I just wanted to get through the first week before doing anything stupid.
VN: What’s the chatter in the peloton? Are you hearing anything about who is going good, or who isn’t?
CH: Really, we’re not spending that much time together where we can chat. There’s been too much stress and fighting for position. Today [stage 7] was the one stage where, for a couple of hours, it went slow enough that you weren’t too worried about a crash or a split. It was pretty normal chatter. Nobody knows anything yet. Nobody has any real insight since there have been no climbs yet. Obviously Lance [Armstrong] is out time-trialing everybody but Dave Zabriskie, and Dave’s 10 minutes down on GC, so what are his chances? If anything, the only chatter is wondering who is going to give Lance a run for the money. After this weekend, I think we’ll know a little more.
VN: Thanks for your time. Speaking of which, just what kind of time do you have for yourself after the race?
CH: it’s definitely limited. When we get back from the race, we have massage, then about 45 minutes to an hour and a half before dinner, and then about two hours of your own time, from about 9:30 to 11:30 before bed.
VN: What has been your highlight from the first week of your first Tour?
CH: Just the spectators. The number of people coming out to watch is amazing. In Germany there couldn’t have been one person in their house. And I don’t’ know where they are parking! There are no cars anywhere. Today we were going down a forest road, there were no houses, no towns anywhere nearby, and it was completely packed. All these people are in the street, and I’m thinking, “How did they get there? How long did these people walk, just to see us ride by for one second?” It’s unbelievable.