By Andrew Hood
It’s official: Chris Horner will be going to the Tour de France.
Horner’s stage-winning ride in Thursday’s climbing stage at the Tour de Suisse assured the popular American rider of a spot on the nine-man Saunier Duval-Prodir team for July’s big dance.
“Yes, Chris will be going to the Tour. It was looking good already, but his victory makes the decision final,” Saunier Duval sport director Joxean “Matxin” Fernández told VeloNews.
Horner entered the Tour de Suisse with something to prove. After injury kept him out of the Giro d’Italia, the 33-year-old reloaded with ambitions of earning a ticket to the Tour.
His impressive stage-victory tipped the scales in his favor.
“It was a great stage win in an epic setting in the mountains. It was great for the team and great for Chris,” Fernández said. “Chris had planned on going to the Giro, but health problems made us change his program. Yesterday he demonstrated he’s in great shape for the Tour.”
Fernández said the Saunier Duval team will ride the Tour without a clear leader for the GC, instead riding with a “strong block” of riders on the hunt for stage victories and a strong showing for the overall.
Fernández added Horner will have the freedom to go on the attack.
“We believe Chris could win a stage at the Tour,” he continued. “We’ll go to the Tour with the plan to attack to win a stage. Chris is part of those plans.”
Mayo reloads for Tour
Iban Mayo has been cycling’s mystery man so far this season. The Basque rider has kept a very low profile this year ahead of the Tour de France with the stated goal of avoiding a repeat of last year’s Tour meltdown.
“Things are going well and I am going to arrive at the Tour like I want to,” Mayo told the Spanish daily AS during a break at the Tour de Suisse. “I am here to work to arrive at my goal, which is to reach my peak of fitness in the Tour, specifically, during the second week of the Tour and maintain it to the finish.”After winning at Alpe d’Huez and finishing sixth overall in the 2003 Tour, Mayo raised hopes in 2004 after clipped off victories in the Vuelta a Asturias, the Clásica de Alcobendas and the Dauphiné Liberé only to abandon the Tour in humiliation and disappointment.
Last year, Basque fans were hopeful Mayo would be the man to knock the Tour crown off Lance Armstrong’s head, but Mayo collapsed under the pressure and eventually abandoned after his costly crash on the cobbles.
This year, Mayo has purposely kept a lower profile and deflects all questions about taking on Armstrong in what will be the Texan’s final run at the Tour.
“The key is day by day. I don’t want to say I will win or that I will climb the podium,” he continued. “I will come to the Tour like I did two years ago, without pressure and looking to take maximum advantage day to day. There are stronger teams than ours. They can carry the weight of the race.”
Mayo admits that he started the Tour de Suisse instead of the tougher Dauphiné to avoid the “media pressure” that would have gone with facing Armstrong at the French race.
No LA, Levi for TTT
Neither Lance Armstrong or Levi Leipheimer will be racing in Sunday’s ProTour team time trial race in Holland. Both riders are coming off strong performances at the Dauphiné Libéré, but both decided to skip the inaugural event.
Six riders from each ProTour team will be lining up for the 45km race against the clock in Eindhoven. In addition to the 20 ProTour teams, five continental teams are also be lining up for the start.
The one-day event is drawing some big names, but such riders as Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) and Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) are racing at the Tour de Suisse and others simply have stayed away.
Among the Americans lining up include Floyd Landis (Phonak), Dave Zabriskie (CSC), another strong indication that “Z” is going to the Tour, and George Hincapie (Discovery) fresh off two stage victories at the Dauphiné. UCI sticks to ‘kilo’ guns
The UCI is sticking to its decision to eliminate the kilometer and 500m track events and replace them with BMX for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games at Beijing.
Cycling’s governing body has come under intense criticism for dumping the storied track events, but in a press release issued Thursday evening, the UCI said there’s no reversing its decision.
The UCI statement underlined its desire to include the view-friendly BMX discipline at the cost of eliminating other events “that it would not increase the number of medals awarded globally to cycling.”
“Therefore, the decision to remove the events in question ensues exclusively from a detailed study led by the UCI, to whom thus returns the whole responsibility of this choice. Any other interpretation of the situation does not correspond to the reality and must be considered erroneous.
“The UCI also reminds that this decision was taken in the view to protect the chances of participation to the Olympic Games to the largest number of athletes, given that the specialists of these disciplines are regularly registered also on events of individual and team sprint.”