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ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Lampre-Merida riders are watching with interest to see if team bosses sign Vuelta a España winner Chris Horner.
Horner has been linked to the Italian team, and riders competing at the Santos Tour Down Under this week said they were waiting to see if the 42-year-old gets picked up.
“The way he won the Vuelta was impressive,” Spanish rider Rafael Valls told VeloNews. “We know there have been conversations, but he would certainly be a welcome addition to the team if the management decide to sign him.”
Valls had a front row seat to Horner’s Vuelta victory when he raced for Vacansoleil-DCM last year, and admitted that the Italian team could use some additional firepower for the general classification at the grand tours.
“Having a rider of Horner’s stature would only make the team stronger. He’s a rider who’s proven he can win a grand tour,” Valls said. “We don’t have anything yet within the team. He would give the team more options in the big races.”
Horner has struggled to find a new contract for 2014. Horner and Trek Factory Racing failed to agree to terms, and a deal with the Fernando Alonso project fell through after the Formula One driver’s efforts to buy out the Euskaltel-Euskadi team collapsed.
Horner has since signed on with ex-pro-turned-agent Baden Cooke, who told journalists Tuesday night that an announcement about Horner’s destination could be coming soon.
Despite being linked to such minor teams as Christina Watches and Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, a move to Lampre makes more sense.
Where Horner would fit in remains to be seen. The team has signed world champion Rui Costa to lead the squad in the Ardennes classics and the Tour de France, while Tour Down Under stage 2 winner Diego Ulissi will carry team colors in the Giro d’Italia.
Team officials in Australia said Horner could fit in well with the squad’s calendar, perhaps racing a North American schedule, with roles in the Tour and a defense in the Vuelta.
Italian sprinter Roberto Ferrari said that team riders are in the dark.
“We only know what we read on the Internet,” Ferrari said. “He’s a grand tour rider with a lot of experience, so of course he would be good to have on the team. We don’t know anything, but if he comes, he would help us. For the Giro, for example, we are bringing a team to support Diego, and I will be fighting in the sprints alone.”
Lampre is in important rebuilding season, tapping Costa to take over the leadership role from Michele Scarponi, who has slotted into a domestique position at Astana.
Valls is among seven new riders joining Lampre, one of two Italian teams, along with Cannondale, at the WorldTour level.
“I will be riding with Costa all season long. We are building a good group around him. He will be looking at such races as Paris-Nice, Basque Country tour, the Ardennes,” Valls said. “Costa can make a good Tour, but if Horner is there, it would be even better. Horner has proven he can win a grand tour, while this will be Costa’s first shot at GC.”