By Andrew Hood
Chris Horner was a little hectic Friday morning in a desperate search for his cycling cleats before the start of the 201.5km fifth stage at Paris-Nice.
The Davitamon-Lotto rider eventually found them tucked inside the team bus and he had the chance to reflect on the final three stages of Paris-Nice before heading for the start.
“I’m going to sit back and relax wait for the final climb. Hopefully the legs I had the other day will be appear again,” Horner told VeloNews. “I’m kind of surprised how good I’m going this early in the season.”
Going into Friday’s stage, Horner was poised quietly in 12th overall at 1:43 back. After racing at the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of California, Horner said he didn’t expect such good form with his season’s goal still months down the road.
In Wednesday’s decisive third stage, when compatriot Floyd Landis (Phonak) grabbed the yellow jersey, Horner finished with the second chase group to move into contention for the podium.
Horner punctured, however, just as the race was nearing the Cat. 1 Col de Croix de Chaubouret, forcing him to frantically chase back on after a wheel change. He grabbed the wheel of Discovery Channel’s José Luis Rubiera to work into the second chase group.
“By the time I got up to the front group, the five riders had already pulled away,” Horner said. “I don’t know if I have the same legs Floyd has right now, because he’s obviously going good, but my legs are better than I thought they’d be.”
Boonen wants one more
Three stages in four days isn’t enough for Tom Boonen. The reigning world champion said he’d like to win Saturday’s hilly stage if the peloton stays together in the eight-climb stage.
“I can’t ask my team to work too much because they’ve already done a great job here,” Boonen told VeloNews before the start of Friday’s stage. “It depends on how the stage unfolds, but sure, I’d love to win another stage.”
Boonen’s win in Thursday’s fourth stage into Rasteau was his 10th on the 2006 season and positioned him as one of the favorites for Milan-San Remo last this month.
“Yesterday I made a small mistake in the sprint and I almost crashed, but I was still able to pass two guys to win,” he said, referring to a chain slip in the final stretch of Thursday’s sprint. “We’re trying to get everything working perfectly with the team. Yesterday was a good situation to chase over a climb, so things are going well.”
Boonen defended his decision to race at Paris-Nice rather than Tirreno-Adriatico, where most of the top sprinters have lined up for the Italian race instead of in the “Race to the Sun.”
“Paris-Nice is one of the biggest stage races in the world and it’s good preparation for the Classics,” he said. “I’ve been riding it every year since I was a pro. I just feel good in this race.”
O’Grady KO’d in TA
Aussie sprinter Stuart O’Grady (CSC) crashed out of Thursday’s second stage of Tirreno-Adriatico with a broken collarbone and five broken ribs.
It’s bad timing for the Aussie veteran, who was expected to shine in the upcoming spring classics. Team officials said he’s expected to miss at least four weeks of competition.
“Stuart was very unlucky and hit a hole in the road on one of the descents. It’s not a complicated fracture in his collarbone, but he’s obviously in a lot of pain right now,” said Team CSC doctor Joost De Maeseneer on the team’s web page. “If we are optimistic, he could be ready in four weeks, and since it’s not so complicated he might be able to resume his training in a couple of weeks.”
It’s the third Team CSC rider to crash out of racing this week. On Sunday, Matti Breschel suffered two fractured vertebra after falling in Sunday’s third stage of the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen.
Christian Vande Velde crashed out of Paris-Nice when he landed hard on his clavicle in a spill in Tuesday’s second stage.