By Ben Delaney
American Chris Horner has been to a training camp or two in his time. This year, he’s happy to be on a ProTour team that will likely go to the Tour de France, and yet has its training camp in the U.S., where he can drive himself to Subway. In Albuquerque, VeloNews sat down with the rider who finished 15th in last year’s Tour while riding in support of teammate Cadel Evans.
VeloNews: How often do you have rolling police enclosures for your training rides?
Chris Horner: If you went to Colombia or something like that they’d do it for you, but otherwise I haven’t heard of it. Especially with the amount of details the cops have put into it to take care of us. It’s been fantastic.
VN: How about the medical services provided as part of this camp, such as by sponsor Presbyterian Hospital?
CH: I was over there today. They brought me in there today, looking at my knee a little bit.
VN: What’s up with the knee?
CH: It’s just sore. The beginning of the year — change of bike, change pedals, change of position a little bit, cold out, training hard. Basically any one of those reasons is a good reason to have some knee pain. But all of them together is catastrophic. So it’s almost amazing I’m the only one. But it’s probably not an issue. Certainly hasn’t stopped me from training.
VN: Speaking of changes, you’ve been on so many teams — Prime Alliance, Saturn, Webcor, Mercury, Saunier Duval, Predictor and now Astana. Have you grown accustomed to jumping around, or is it a pain every time?
CH: Nope, it’s completely normal. I’m completely used to it. You just really learn how to take care of yourself. And you hope the team does this and that for you, but you’re prepared that if they don’t, you know how to take care of yourself. For example, I show up to camp, I’ve got my training bag that’s got my tools, my pump and all that kind of stuff and I bring it out with me on the training rides. Because maybe they’re following us, maybe they’re not. I’ve been on teams where there is no care. Then you’re on a team like this. Then I’ve been on teams like Lotto where they’re riding so hard on training rides that you’re better off training by yourself anyways. I’m prepared to go ride by myself for five hours instead of doing the ride with the team. Those little things you just get used to doing. It makes it a whole lot easier when they have camp in the States. You know, my car is out in the parking lot. If I cut out early from a ride and there’s no food in the hotel, I just jump in my car and go to Subway. Those are things you can’t do when you’re in Europe.
VN: You’re just at the mercy.
CH: Absolutely. Literally everything there just shuts down, and you can’t go have lunch when you want to have lunch. That’s one of the upsides of having training camp here in New Mexico. I know exactly what I can and can’t do and what to expect. For me, when I’m jumping around from team to team, it’s really weird. All the teams I’ve been with, I’ve loved ’em. Every one of them. I liked Lotto, liked Saunier Duval. Loved Webcor. They were fantastic. Smallest pro team I had ever ridden for, smallest pro team in the world, really. And one of the best organized. The check was one time, everything. Rode for Saturn, with one of the biggest U.S. teams going that year, and we won everything. That was incredibly fun. Rode for Prime Alliance before that; that was great. Rode for Mercury. Aside from the director and not getting paid, those were the only issues I had. For one reason or another there was always some reason to leave a team even though all my experiences with the teams were fantastic. Growing up watching baseball, you see players jumping from team to team, you think, maybe there’s something wrong with that player. Then that started happening to me. And I thought, that’s weird, even though everybody likes each other you could still end up leaving. With Mercury it was simple – I wasn’t getting paid. With Prime Alliance – I had a two-year contract with Saturn. With Saturn – the sponsor quit sponsoring us. With Webcor – I wanted to go to Europe and do the Tour de France. With Saunier Duval – they were paying me minimum wage and I believed I deserved more than that, and Lotto was offering me fantastic wages. I found it really bizarre why I didn’t stay with Lotto. They chose not to sign me. Now I’m here with Astana. From every aspect of the team so far I’ll say it’s fantastic and I’ll fit right in.
VN: How much leeway, not just at camps but throughout the year, are you given for your training, and how much is dictated by the team?
CH: Here [at camp], it’s going to be Johan [Bruyneel] and [Alain] Gallopin directing the rides. They’re going to be getting feedback from riders on how they’re feeling. Today we were going to do 2.5 hours with everybody, but Gallopin realized some guys were more tired than others. So he came down today and said it’s a free ride today, do what you want. The younger riders are always going to do what they’re told, just suffer and fight through the training. A rider like myself, who has gone through multiple years and styles of January training camps, I’m not afraid to say this is too much for me right now. The end result is that a team is never going to give you a contract based on how good you ride at training camp. That has been the most important thing I’ve learned. I remembered with Française des Jeux, I showed up the second year in 1998 at training camp and I was flying. I was riding as good if not better than everyone on the team. But then when we started racing I wasn’t riding as well. They don’t give you a contract for winning the January training-camp ride. They may not be happy if you turn and go do your own ride, but they will be happy if you ride good at the races.
VN: What races are you hoping to be riding well for?
CH: For me, I want to go well at Pais Vasco. I want to do my job at California. We’ve got a guy that can win it with Levi Leipheimer. I want to be good enough to at least support him, and come out of that with good form. Then, have a decent ride at Paris-Nice. And then really start looking to ride good at Pais Vasco, because right after that is the classics. That’s gotta be the objective. Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallone, and then the granddaddy of them all, Liège-Bastogne-Liège. If I could win one of those, that would be fantastic.
VN: For the classics, you’ve got yourself, Gusev, Vaitkus, and who else?
CH: I don’t know. I’m not familiar enough with the team to know who the riders would be for the classics. It’s easy for me to pick the Tour team, plus or minus a couple guys. It’s simple. This is a stage-racing team. But you start looking at the one-day races, and you start wondering, who are the racers who are going to want to do Paris-Roubaix? It’s a different rider than even the Liège rider.
VN: You’re not going to want to throw Alberto on the cobbles.
CH: No, no. I don’t even know if you throw a rider like Alberto into a race like Liège-Bastogne-Liège. But I don’t know. Maybe right now we could go talk to Alberto and he’d say, “Hey, that’s my favorite race.” but I don’t recall ever seeing him there, so I don’t think it is.
VN: Was a spot on the Tour team part of your deal coming here?
CH: No, not at all. I believe just because of the salary, and in talking to Bruyneel, that it’s on my program. Will I be there for sure? No. You have to make the team. On this team, we have 12-15 guys that can make the Tour de France. But if I ride as good as I did last year? Yeah, I’m gonna make the team.