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Horner: I’ll race Cascade instead of the Tour
By Andrew Hood
Chris Horner thought he was trading up when he left his role of helping Cadel Evans at Lotto to ride in support of Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer at Astana.
Exclusions from many of the season’s biggest races, however, could mean Horner will miss the Tour de France for the first time in four years. Instead of riding up l’Alpe d’Huez come July, he’ll likely be at the Cascade Classic.
But Horner’s not losing any sleep over the back-room decisions that’s undercutting Astana’s racing schedule for 2008. VeloNews caught up with Horner during last week’s Vuelta al País Vasco to gauge how he’s dealing with the changes. Here are excerpts of the interview:
VeloNews: It looks like this spring is turning into a revenge campaign for the team, how is the team handling the exclusions from the big races for the Giro and Tour organizers?
Chris Horner: That seems to be Alberto’s thing. He’s winning everything! Morale is good on the team and everyone is having fun racing. When you win, it makes it easier. For me, it’s pretty simple; I go to the race and ride lieutenant. We went to California and Levi was intent on destroying everyone there, which he did. Then I went to Castilla y León and Alberto was killing it there, and if Alberto didn’t do it, Levi was ready to step in.
VN: How have the decisions affected you?
CH: It was bad for me, because they were all my races. At first, I didn’t even realize that ASO did Liège and Flèche. When they said we couldn’t do the Tour, I said, okay, there are still a lot of other good races. Then I said wait a minute, they do Liège, Flèche, Paris-Nice, I was like, oh man. For a week or so, I was wondering where I was going to go race. But over here, they’re all good races. I did Castilla y León, País Vasco, next I do Amstel, then probably Romandie, Luxembourg, Tour de Suisse, that’s plenty to keep me occupied.
VN: Is the team holding out for a last-minute reprieve and might be allowed to race the Tour or Giro?
CH: It would still be nice if we got a last-minute Tour invite or something like that. Because everyone knows this is all about politics. It’s nothing else but politics, so who knows, maybe they can fix something up between now and then. I left my schedule light just in case. I did Castilla y León instead of Paris-Nice and I do Luxembourg instead of Flèche and Liège, so it’s almost my identical schedule as if I were doing the Tour in July. If something we’re to change, I’d be ready.
VN: Any regrets about leaving Lotto to come to Astana?
CH: No, for me, this is a great team. It’s great riding with Levi and for a guy who’s won the Tour like Alberto. For me it was no loss to leave Lotto. There are so many different languages here, so it’s no big deal for me. It’s been an easy transfer. This is like team No. 8 or No. 9 for me, so I can go anywhere. I’ve come to educate myself to get used to new teammates and new conditions and take care of the stuff I need to take care of. For me, if the bike’s good, my racing schedule’s good, that’s I’m worried about.
VN: Was there ever any consideration to try to go back to Lotto so you could go to the Tour?
CH: It was just the opposite, I was like, do you (Astana) want to sign me up for a second year? Politics are politics. I can switch to another team and then something can happen with them. What I want are good quality races, I want a good quality bike and I want the paycheck to arrive on time. I have all that here.
VN: Despite the problems, how has your form coming into the spring races?
CH: For me, I’ve been a little sick and I had a knee problem at California. When I came back to Spain, I had some allergy problems, but the form has still been okay. The form has just been everywhere. The training has been the same way, good for a week and bad for a week.
VN: What will you be doing in July instead of racing the Tour?
CH: I’ll do the Cascade Classics. It’s by my house and I can be by my kids!
VN: What’s going to happen after July?
CH: I don’t really know what will happen after July. Maybe I can do the Olympics or the national championship if they don’t conflict with the Vuelta. I’m assuming that the team is going want the best-possible squad for the Vuelta and assuming my legs are going good, I’ll be there for Alberto. I don’t even know about the Olympics, if Levi and I are going. Anything is possible. I’m only sure up to July. After that, we’ll see what happens.
VN: Do you believe that Lotto has the team to win the Tour with Cadel?
CH: They got good guys, no doubt about that. When you look at the Tour, Floyd won without a strong team, probably one of the weakest teams ever to win a Tour. Everyone will be so focused on second or third, so if there was really a strong team out there, like Rabobank and they rode a really tactical race, and had lots of guys on the top 10 on GC, and lit it up on the right stages, they could win the Tour. But if they do it like T-Mobile did a few years ago when Floyd won, when they just had a powerhouse team and just wasted people all over the place, when it comes to the crucial stage and there guys we’re just wasted, they can’t. If one of their rivals races a strong race, Lotto could have problems. They have a good team, but you’ll lose at least one guy because Robbie’s going to want to have someone there for him. So that’s losing two out of nine for the mountains. They have to really focus on what they want to do, and I’m sure they’re not going to not take Robbie.
VN: Who do you see as capable of beating Evans now that Contador and Leipheimer won’t be there?
CH: (Denis) Menchov is every bit as good as Cadel. (Carlos) Sastre is just as good. CSC and Rabobank have guys who can go with Cadel, but they also have guys who are strong enough to light it up on the right stage. Either one of those teams can win the Tour. But they have to race smart and teams always don’t race smart.