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Chris Horner Interview: On ending a career in the ambulance and feeling 25, sometimes

Heading into Tour, Horner says: "I will take it day by day and just do my best to help the team"

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LONDON (VN) — Of course, it wasn’t supposed to be like this. It never is.

Chris Horner was supposed to contend for the Giro d’Italia and perhaps even defend his Vuelta a España crown.

But this is pro cycling. It rarely goes how it’s supposed to. Instead of taking the start in Belfast and contesting the Giro in the Italian Alps, the 42-year-old was hit by a car and left in an Italian tunnel in early April. The crash resulted in broken ribs and a punctured lung, but not a broken racer.

Now, the wily veteran, and one of the peloton’s great talkers and climbers, will suit up for the Tour on Saturday in Leeds, his seventh ride around France (He’s finished all but one, and finished as high as ninth, in 2010). VeloNews caught up with the defending Vuelta champ and Lampre-Merida rider in the days before the Grand Départ in the United Kingdom.

VeloNews: How are you feeling after the injury? Recovered? If, say 100 percent was your form to win the Vuelta, what are you coming into the Tour at this year?

Chris Horner: I’m feeling close to 100 percent healed, but I’m not sure what my form will be. The injuries from getting hit were a lot more severe than my knee injury [sustained early last season — Ed.], so the recovery has been longer and a lot more complicated. I won’t really know how I’m feeling until I get into the Tour, and even then I will take it day by day and just do my best to help the team.

VN: What will your role be? Support only? A stage hunt in the mountains? What would be a good ride for you in France?

CH: Again, it’s hard to say. I’m going in with the plan of doing whatever the team needs, but whether that will be working for the team or fighting for GC, I won’t really know until we get through the first week and see how everyone is feeling and how GC looks at that point. Anything can happen in the first week of the Tour, so it is impossible to plan until we get through that point.

VN: We like to write about how you’re “old,” at least compared to the others. Are you feeling old? Or are you as spritely as ever?

CH: I really only feel my age when I first wake up in the morning. Then I can feel every kilometer and every race of the past 25 years. But once I’m up and moving, it all melts away. And once the race starts, I feel like I’m still 25 and excited to be there. Being in the race never gets old and is always a great feeling.

VN: You’ve had major crashes before, obviously. But does one like that, this late in your career, make you think twice about racing again? Do you ever just think of walking away while you’re in one piece?

CH: Nope, I have always approached my career assuming that I would end my career in an ambulance, so that aspect doesn’t scare me. The crash was incredibly scary and I’m grateful to be headed to the Tour only two months (and three hospital stays) later, but we all know it is a risk of the job. Spending that many hours out on the road riding includes the risks of crashing or being hit, and that only gets amplified in big races like the Tour, but that isn’t enough to keep me from doing what I love.

VN: Are you excited for the Tour? Eager?

CH: I am absolutely excited for the Tour. It is the biggest, most epic race in the world and that is something every bike racer dreams about being a part of. No matter how many times I’ve started the Tour now, it is always exciting and I can’t wait for the start.

VN: Who do you think will win this thing? What will it take to beat Chris Froome and Sky?

CH: It is hard to say. I think Froome is definitely going in as the favorite, but Alberto [Contador] is riding really well, and I think there is a lot of room for some excitement depending on the strength of teams and tactics. No one seems to have the team that can control the race up to this point, so it will be interesting to see how things develop, especially with such a hard final week and only one TT. Anyone who wants to beat Froome will need a pretty serious buffer going into the TT, which means they’ll have to hope he has a bad day in the mountains or is exposed one day if his team cracks. Not sure if it will happen, but is always possible and that’s why everyone shows up for the race.