Harder Liège suits Horner

Chris Horner (RadioShack) hopes his winning legs from the Tour of the Basque Country will make him one of the protagonists at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Horner hopes his Basque Country legs serve him well at Liège.

Chris Horner (RadioShack) is hoping his winning legs from the Tour of the Basque Country will make him one of the protagonists in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Horner leads a strong RadioShack squad into the spring classics finale and is feeling confident following his seventh place ride in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne.

“Legs are still good, the form is good, I’ve been training hard,” Horner told VeloNews on Saturday. “Liège suits me better than Flèche, the group should be a little smaller, the climbs are longer. I will stay calm in the first half of the race until we get to the final 50km. The race will be won in the last two climbs.”

Like many who were affected by the volcano eruption last week, Horner drove 17 hours from his European home base in southern Spain to arrive in time for the Ardennes classics.

Horner has only raced Liège twice in his career, finishing eighth in 2006 and 76th in 2007, and was able to see the new climb at Roche aux Faucons during a training ride Friday.

“I saw it the first time in training, it was a good thing we pre-rode the course because they changed the course quite a bit. At the finish, they’ve made it harder, so it should be intense,” said Horner, adding that the winning moves will come there. “That’s the way it is nowadays, everyone has teammates left, so until the leaders are left without teammates, there’s not much reason to do any early moves. Once the elite guys are there, then it’s time to go to work.”

Horner is in the best form of his career following his dramatic overall victory at the Vuelta al País Vasco, considered by many as the hardest stage race in Europe behind the three-week grand tours.

“It’s fabulous. The legs were just fantastic the first day. I was really confident. A lot of journalists and other people didn’t think I could win. They don’t understand how the form is better from last year,” Horner said. “Last year, the form was this good, but I was always on the couch with something broken. The small glimpses you saw before I broke something showed how good my form was.”

Horner was especially proud that he was able to win the final-day time trial showdown against Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) to win the stage and take the overall.

“My time trialing has gotten a lot better. In years past, the form wasn’t as good and I didn’t need to time trial, because we had other guys who were winning,” he said. “When you have guys like Alberto and Levi winning, I was only going 90 percent in the time trial. So at País Vasco, I knew it was time to do 100 percent.

“It was fantastic to win the time trial. I knew it was 50-50, so it would be a flip of coin in the time trial. I knew I was capable of winning and it was going to be a few seconds in front or behind. I knew there was no chance to get in away in the last road stage, so you had to leave it to the time trial,” he said. “I was getting splits in every kilometer. I had Eki (Viatcheslav Ekimov) in the car and he was doing a fabulous job. I could monitor how much effort to put into the pedals.”

The victory was well-deserved for Horner, who raced in Europe in the late 1990s but didn’t quite find his place in the French team FDJeux. He returned to dominate the American domestic scene before getting a second shot at Europe with Saunier Duval in 2005.

“It’s been a great career, I cannot complain, but to have that solid win is great. I put that win up there next to anything like a grand tour,” he said. “The trophy will look really nice in my house.”

If Horner has his way, there might be a few more trophies before this season is out.