Horner starts season at Dominican Republic stage race

American Chris Horner, 44, is riding for the Lupus Racing Team this year — his 22nd season in the professional ranks.

Chris Horner quietly debuted his 2016 season this week in the Caribbean with the Lupus Racing Team.

The 44-year-old cranked up the pedals for his 22nd pro season at the Vuelta Independencia Nacional Republica Dominicana (Tour of the Dominican Republic). The nine-day stage race started Saturday with a team time trial and concludes Sunday in the capital at Santo Domingo. Horner lost 18 minutes in the second stage, but he finished in the front group in Monday’s mountaintop finale, 17 seconds behind a solo winner.

The 2013 Vuelta a España champion has been dogged by a long-running lung infection, but he hopes to regain full fitness this season in time to challenge for victories at the top domestic races on the U.S. calendar.

Lupus Racing Team, a Georgia-based Continental squad now in its second season, confirmed the arrival of Horner in February. The team boasts 15 riders and is expanding its program for the 2016 season, with Horner a key player.

After he was unable to find a top European team following the 2014 season, Horner raced with Airgas – Safeway last year. Despite initial reports that suggested he would retire, Horner’s agent Baden Cooke confirmed his client was still keen to race in 2016. A door opened for Horner in early February, when new Lupus arrival Jure Kocjan tested positive for a sample taken in 2012. The team scuttled that contract and quickly signed Horner to fill the gap.

Lupus has a full U.S. racing calendar, including a few select trips abroad, and a busy April that includes the San Dimas Stage Race, Redlands Classic, and the Sea Otter Classic, among other races.

If Horner can fully recover from his chest infection, he will certainly be a factor in any race he starts. Even off his top form in 2015, he was fifth at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the U.S. championships, and fourth at the Tour d’Azerbaidjan. In typical trademark fashion, Horner is sticking to his unorthodox diet, posting a recent photo on Twitter of his training ride food bag that contained Ding Dongs, a Snicker’s bar, and a Coca-Cola to keep him going.