By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
Race favorite Chris Horner won’t be at his best come the USA team selection race in Redlands, California on Saturday, but that won’t stop him from showing up at the startline.
On Thursday the Webcor rider said he’s had a nasty cold for about a week, and has been on antibiotics since Tuesday. That was the reason he opted to take a pass on the national time trial championship race that was won by U.S. Postal’s David Zabriskie.
“I’m not sick enough to miss the race on Saturday, but it definitely wasn’t worth doing the TT,” Horner explained. “I probably could have done half decent, but it’s not worth jeopardizing anything for the Olympic trials race.”
Indeed, Horner will be among a field of a 100-plus riders gunning for the final spot on the U.S. Olympic road team that will compete in Athens in August. Already on what will be a five-rider squad are Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, George Hincapie and Bobby Julich.
“I’d like to be healthy because this is such a big race for me,” said Horner, who won the Redlands Classic stage race here earlier in the year. “It’s too bad they didn’t do this race in March or April, because it would have been a done deal then.”
Horner admits that his form isn’t what it was earlier in the season, and that he will see stiff challenges from several riders in Saturday’s race.
“Zabriskie obviously has good form,” Horner said. “But Postal doesn’t have a full team, and it’s not like [Zabriskie] beat the world’s best field.
“You never know with a race like this. It could be something strange where all the favorites are looking at each other and someone else rides away.”
Besides the antibiotics, Horner says he’s been on a steady diet of cold medicine for several days.
“I had a head cold after Philly week, and when I went to [Trent] Klasna’s place to train it got worse,” he said. “That’s when I started antibiotics. Right now it’s hard to tell what’s fatigue, what’s not sleeping at night because I’m coughing all the time, and what’s from the antibiotics. It’s definitely not good for the legs, though.”
Despite his troubles, Horner says the Olympic trials course, which includes parts of the Sunset Loop and Panorama Point Course used in the Redlands race, plus a new steep, narrow and windy section, is ideal for him.
“I think you’ll see some guys go up the road early and it’s going to be up to my Webcor guys to keep things under control,” he guessed. “I’m going to have to be more careful with tactics than I would have early in the season because the form isn’t the same.”
Horner also sees the Health Net squad as serious contender, though he hasn’t been overly impressed with their tactics this year.
“It seems like without a clear leader they don’t always know how to play tactics,” he said. “But all their guys are top quality, so they’re always a threat.”
The final day of racing at the Pool Gel USCF National Road Championships kicks off at 8:30 a.m. local time with the women’s race. They’ll cover six laps plus a start loop on the 11.3-mile course (72 miles). The winner will be crowned national road champ and earn the final spot of the U.S. women’s Olympic road team.
The men follow, heading out at 12:30 p.m. for 10 laps plus a starter (118 miles). Check back to VeloNews.com all day for updates, reports, results and photos.