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Horner moves to Prime Alliance

Chris Horner has been granted clearance by the UCI to leave the troubled Mercury team and finish out the 2001 season as a member of Prime Alliance. Horner is making the move to Prime Alliance in time to race this weekend in Irvine, California, and has contracted to race for the team in 2002. Horner will be joined by fellow Mercury rider John Peters for the 2002 season. Prime Alliance general manager Roy Knickman said Horner will serve as "a sort of co-leader with Danny Pate," the team's most promising young rider. Knickman said that the team's title sponsor has been pleased with the

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Signing signals expanded program for 2002

Chris Horner has been granted clearance by the UCI to leave the troubled Mercury team and finish out the 2001 season as a member of Prime Alliance. Horner is making the move to Prime Alliance in time to race this weekend in Irvine, California, and has contracted to race for the team in 2002. Horner will be joined by fellow Mercury rider John Peters for the 2002 season.

Prime Alliance general manager Roy Knickman said Horner will serve as “a sort of co-leader with Danny Pate,” the team’s most promising young rider. Knickman said that the team’s title sponsor has been pleased with the team’s performance in 2001 and recently doubled the budget for next year.

Prime Alliance will continue to operate as a UCI Division III team, which places lower financial burdens on the squad, but also requires that at least half of its roster be comprised of riders under the age of 27. “That’s been one of our strengths from the beginning,” Knickman said. “We have a good group of very talented young riders. Chris will bring a lot of experience.”

The improved budget has allowed the team to fill out its roster for the coming year. In addition to Horner and Peters, the team has signed Matt Decanio (currently on Saturn), David McCook (from 7UP-Colorado Cyclist), and Alex Candelario, who has been riding with a relatively small sponorship from THF Reality.

Nonetheless, Prime Alliance will keep the core of its 2001 team including Pate, Michael Creed, Jonas Carney, Jame Carney, Ryan Miller and John Walrod. Knickman said a 12th rider would probably be added to the roster some time next month and added that the team may also work with a junior team made up of riders from the Northwest and Colorado.

“You know I’m happy to have Jonas come back,” Knickman said. “I think he’s already shown that if we can him to the line, there’s almost no one out there who can beat him in a sprint. And now that we’ve signed (Carney’s former Shaklee teammate, Dave) McCook, it’s an excellent combination. Those two have a good unspoken working relationship. John (Peters) could really shine here, too. I think for him, Mercury was just too crowded, too deep of a team. He is an excellent lead-out man and he never got much of an opportunity at Mercury to do more than just go out and ride tempo.”

Horner’s quick switch to Prime Alliance was largely driven by the financial troubles that have plagued the Mercury program since the financial collapse of the team’s co-sponsor Viatel. The Viatel sponsorship was originally the result of a merger of two separate programs – John Wordin’s Mercury team and the Viatel squad, first organized with the help of three-time Tour winner, Greg LeMond. The merger brought on several high-priced riders who, of course, had to be paid even after Viatel pulled out.

When the paychecks stopped at the end of June, Horner publicly expressed his dismay with the team and sought help from the UCI in securing money from the team’s required bank guarantee. There had been some question even up until this week as to whether Horner could leave the team without giving up his claim to unpaid salary. That issue was cleared up when the UCI granted him permission and allowed him to maintain his claims.

Several of Horner’s Mercury teammates have also left the team, including American Chann McRae, who is now racing the Vuelta a Espana as a member of the U.S. Postal team. Russian Pavel Tonkov, the winner of the 1996 Giro d’Italia, has signed with his old Lampre team for 2002.

Meanwhile Wordin is still trying to negotiate a new merger agreement with the French La Française des Jeux team. Wordin told VeloNews that he expected to know more about the status of that proposal within a week.