By Andrew Hood
What a difference a year makes for Chris Horner. Twelve months ago, he was making an uncertain return to Europe.
Flash forward to 2006 and Horner is a very happy camper at Davitamon-Lotto, secure in a two-year contract and a place in this year’s Tour de France.
“I’m on the list. Unless I take myself out of it with an injury or illness, I’m going,” Horner told VeloNews. “It’s better that than the position I was in last year, when I didn’t know if I was going or not.”
Last year, riding with Saunier Duval-Prodir, Horner didn’t secure his Tour ticket until he proved himself with a dramatic stage victory at the Tour de Suisse. Injured early in the 2005 season, Horner bounced back to ride the Tour with panache, figuring in several breaks and almost getting to the line ahead of the peloton into Montpellier in stage 13.
With two solid early season results in his pocket (13th at Tour of California, 10th at Paris-Nice), Horner said he’ll race at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, Fleche Wallone and Liege-Bastogne-Liege before returning to the United States.
This year, everything is being ready for the Tour.
“I plan to be 100 percent for the Tour. I wouldn’t want to go through that suffering without being in top shape,” he said. “I’ve done it already. I know what it’s like.”
Horner said he can expect to be working for GC leader Cadel Evans and sprinter Robbie McEwen, a role he said he has no problem with.
“Both are riding well. Robbie’s solid, so you know you’re gonna be at the front for him and Cadel’s good on the GC,” he said. “I’ll be helping out in the sprints. I’ve been comfy in the role my entire career.”
Horner is also content at Davitamon-Lotto, secure with a two-year contract and speaking in English with teammates, rather than struggling with Spanish like he did last year at Saunier Duval.
“I like the team. I’m more much comfortable without having to fight with the language. I know a little French, so it’s okay,” he said. “Everything’s good – the directors, the riders and staff… the pay is good.”
Bettini to start MSR
Paolo Bettini will be at the start of Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, team officials announced late Tuesday. The Olympic champion trained three hours earlier in the afternoon and said he was good enough to line up in Milan.
“Day after day, I’ve improved a little bit even if the pain persists in the lower-back area and in my right knee. It’s difficult to stand on the pedals,” Bettini said.
The 2003 MSR champion crashed hard in a high-speed descent in stage three of Tirreno-Adriatico, throwing his spring campaign into doubt. Even Bettini admits he won’t be at his best, but vowed to be a factor.
“Unfortunately, Milan-San Remo is the longest race of the season. I hope that the pain to the back and the knee don’t limit me during the final kilometers of the race,” he said.StartList: Milan-San Remo
Vila’s victory long time coming
Patxi Vila’s Paris-Nice was success that took the long road. The Spanish rider rode five years on local club before he was picked up in 2001 by Banesto. Lampre took a chance on him in 2003, but his victories eluded him.
Vila consulted a psychologist to help him work through the mental gymnastics to deal with the pressure of the pro ranks. He paid back that patience in his first professional victory with the stage win ahead of Floyd Landis in stage three and hung on to finish second overall at nine seconds back.
“I was blocked. It wasn’t like I had fear of success or winning, but nearly,” he told El Diario Vasco. “I didn’t know how to confront it and he helped me. When I was in the escape with Landis, I was thinking the cold was the same for both of us as well as the fatigue. The psychologist helped me.”
Petacchi gets one more look at Poggio
Defending Milan-San Remo champion Alessandro Petacchi is leaving nothing to chance ahead of this weekend’s big race. The Milram captain has scheduled a reconnaissance over the final climbs along the Mediterranean Coast.
“It’s true that I know the roads well, but another look isn’t out of order,” Petacchi told Tutto Bici. “I want a closer look at the descents off the Cipressa and the Pogio. I will memorize them and try to win again.”
Last year’s victory was a huge boost for Petacchi, who rattled off victories in stage races but seemed stuck when it came to winning one of the longer, demanding classics. He put rest to the notion that he couldn’t win long-distance races with an emphatic victory last year.
New doubts have surfaced this season as he’s made the switch to Milram after his long-established train at Fassa Bortolo dissolved following the disappearance of the team sponsor.
This year, he’ll count on four-time champion Erik Zabel, Fabio Sacchi and Marco Velo.
“Win or loss, the most important thing is to be a protagonist,” he said. Breschel back home
Team CSC rider Matti Breschel was scheduled to head home Wednesday from an extended stay after crashing hard in the final stage of the Three Days of West-Flanders. He’s already started some rehab work, but he will be wearing a special brace to protect his torso. “At times I feel really good, but I guess that is when I’ve been given a fresh batch of painkillers,” he said joking on the team’s web page. “I get up and move around more easily then. My mom even took me out for a breath of fresh air yesterday. I’ve got to say it’s a special experience to be in a wheelchair. Seeing the cobbled streets normally gives me a real buzz and then I can’t wait to get on the bike and ride them, but now I had complete different feelings.”
The young Dane was in position to win the stage race when he fell hard in the charge to the line in the finale. Confined to the hospital for 10 days, he’s hopeful he can get back on the bike and return to racing later this season.
“I’ve remained positive all along and feel things are heading in the right direction. The headaches are definitely getting less, but my back is killing me at times,” he said. “The lack of movement is the main cause I think of that and I’m sure Ole Foli (Team CSC therapist) will have his work cut out. But I am looking forward to going back to Denmark and get back on the bike training as soon as possible. I’m motivated and eager to return to competition.” Women’s race canceled
Organizers of the women’s Vuelta a Castilla y León informed the Spanish cycling federation that the race, scheduled for May 3-5, will be canceled. The annual women’s World Cup, called the GP Castilla y Leon, will go ahead as scheduled for May 7.