From the pages of Velo: The Storyteller — Chris Horner

With a permanent grin and keen tactical senses, Chris Horner is surely aimed for the commentary box

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the February 2012 issue of Velo Magazine, in which we profiled a selection of the sport’s top personalities. Chris Horner, who today rides the final-stage time trial at Tirreno-Adriatico seeking to become the first American to win the famed Italian stage race, is “The Storyteller.” For more tales of the intriguing names in cycling, like cover boy David Zabriskie and Willow Koerber Rockwell, pick up the February 2012 issue of Velo.

If the evergreen Chris Horner ever does retire from professional cycling, the 40-year-old American will no doubt field offers to provide TV race commentary. Why? Because not only does Horner love to tell a story, but he’s also universally touted as a tactical genius, able to read a race better than anyone in the pro peloton. And he’s perhaps the most upbeat, approachable rider in the sport. Horner loves his profession so much that even when he’s suffering, he appears to be smiling.

“Life’s just not that hard on me,” Horner said when asked about his permanent grin. “I’m still just riding my bikes. I might go through moments of pain and suffering, but so do other people in everyday life. Cycling has its headaches, just like everything else, but I always say that I’m living the dream.”

And Horner’s had his share of headaches over the past few years.

Though he’s enjoyed some of the best form of his 20-year career, he’s also been beset with injuries. In 2009 he broke bones in three separate crashes, and in 2011 he famously abandoned the Tour de France after finishing stage 7 with a concussion that erased his memory of his crash and subsequent ride to the finish line in Châteauroux. Yet Horner never loses his ability to smile — and even laugh about it.

“Even crashing is part of the job,” Horner said. “People were bummed for me after I crashed out of the Tour, saying ‘I hope it didn’t bring you down.’ No, it didn’t bring me down. It’s part of the sport. Of course I would have preferred a crash like that in any other month than July, but when I look back at 2011, I won the Amgen Tour of California, I finished second at the Tour of the Basque Country and was a huge part of helping Andreas Klöden win it. How can I look at the season and be upset? It was a fabulous season.

“I would have preferred to crash elsewhere, but crashes happen. I expect crashes, I expect the bike to break, or not work correctly, or the mechanic may miss something and the handlebar comes loose. When it happens, I just deal with it and move on.”

Horner’s ability to break down a race in clear, unwavering terms has also made him a media darling. He’s generous with his time to reporters from all media outlets, and he speaks in upbeat, logical tones that are hard to deny. The common refrain among cycling journalists is that “Everything Horner says is gold.”

“Sometimes I’ll be watching ESPN and see a player get upset with a reporter for asking a question like ‘what’s wrong with the team?’ And I think, why is he getting upset?” Horner said. “Your job is to play the game, and the reporter’s job is to report on the game. You know the question is coming, and you should be prepared for it. It is just part of the job, there’s no reason to be upset at the reporter. The question is going to be asked, so why would you let it upset you? At times I am upset, but the overriding emotion is that I still enjoy racing my bike.”

The few times that Horner does get upset after a race, his wife Megan told Velo, is when he knows he’s made a mistake.

“The only time he gets disappointed is if he feels like he made a mistake or should have known better,” she said. “It’s kind of bizarre how brilliant he is when it comes to race tactics. He’s very focused on doing his job to the best of his ability, and he truly pays attention to everything, which is why he can tell you about every mistake he’s made in every race for the past 20 years.”

And it’s the combination of Horner’s tactical insight and gregarious nature that will make him a shoo-in as a future sports broadcaster.

“I love telling stories,” he said. “I think life is all about telling stories. When you go out and do something, it’s really fun living that moment, but it’s also fun later, having a beer with your friends, or with your wife and kids, and telling the story over again. There’s a lot of joy in cycling, and I love talking about it.” — NEAL ROGERS