Chris Horner signs with Airgas-Safeway

Grand tour champion Horner confirms that he will return to the domestic racing scene aboard the Continental squad, Airgas-Safeway

After an autumn of uncertainty, Vuelta a España champion Chris Horner has signed with the Airgas-Safeway team for 2015.

“I am very excited to be joining Airgas-Safeway for 2015,” said Horner. “I have achieved a huge amount of success in my career and I’m incredibly proud of that. For me, the next chapter isn’t just about what I can do as an individual, but what I can give back to cycling as a sport. I had a number of options for this year, and what really struck me about Airgas-Safeway was their utter commitment to giving the next generation of young riders the opportunity for success.”

American grocer Safeway came on board for the 2015 season to join Airgas — a company that provides gases, welding, and safety products — as a title sponsor of the 16-rider Continental squad.

“Chris Horner has done it all. This is not only a huge development for our program, but also for cycling fans in the United States,” said Airgas-Safeway team principle Chris Johnson. “To be able to give a group of young riders the chance to race with a champion like Horner is a dream come true on so many levels.”

“Racing with excited young athletes fits well with my love of the sport, and it will be a great partnership to build for the future,” said Horner. “I look forward to sharing my racing and tactical experience to help the team race for the win at Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and many other races throughout the season.”

Horner, 43, became the eldest rider to win a grand tour when he won the 2013 Vuelta a España. He will join upstart squad Airgas-Safeway, a U.S.-based Continental team focused on young riders, after Lampre-Merida opted to cut the American loose after one season of racing.

Lampre did not extend Horner’s contract after one season with the team. The rumor mill has since gone into overdrive about where Horner could land for next season, but Horner himself has stayed quiet.

All this noise is but another note in Horner’s long song as a professional. After winning the 2013 Vuelta, he was cut by the team that became Trek Factory Racing, then signed with Lampre in January. While training for the 2014 Giro d’Italia he was hit by a car in a tunnel in Italy and left for dead.

Horner recovered from his injuries — including a punctured lung — in time to ride inside the top 20 in the Tour de France, running on fumes and suffering from a long-running sickness that ultimately mandated a therapeutic use exemption for cortisone. That eventually kept him from defending his Vuelta crown, as Lampre erased him from the start list due to a conflict with the Movement for Credible Cycling rules.

His move to Airgas-Safeway, a relatively unknown domestic Continental team, is not unprecedented. In 2004, Horner signed with the unheralded Webcor squad after winning big in the U.S. in 2003 — he took wins at the Solano Bicycle Classic, Redlands Bicycle Classic, the Tour de Georgia, and the T-Mobile International in San Francisco — while riding for Saturn. He finished that season as the top-ranked rider on USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar.

In 2004, riding for Webcor, Horner won the Redlands, Pomona Valley, and Sea Otter stage races, and again finished the season as the top-ranked rider on USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar. Horner finished eighth that year at the UCI road world championships in Verona, Italy.

Horner moved to the ProTour level at the end of the 2004 season, joining Saunier Duval-Prodir in time to race the Giro di Lombardia, where he finished 11th. With Saunier Duval, he raced the Tour de France for the first time in 2005.

“2015 is shaping up to be a fun year with great racing and more time at home with my family, including the new baby we have on the way in January,” Horner said. “I can’t wait to race with a group of excited young pros — their enthusiasm will make the season fun and exciting.”