Not many pundits predicted that a Team Radio-Shack Leopard rider would win the 2013 Vuelta a’ Espana, the season’s final Grand Tour. No one predicted that the winner would be that team’s oldest rider, 41-year-old Chris Horner.
Horner turns 42 next month, making him the oldest rider to win one of cycling’s three most prestigious races. He also won three stages, at the Vuelta, each time breaking the record for oldest rider to win a stage in a Grand Tour.
He did it with tremendous performances in the mountain stages, riding his Trek Madone 6.9 SSL road bike with panache rarely seen in riders his age.
His final margin over main rival Vincenzo Nibali of Italy was 37 seconds.
Horner is in the last year of his contract with the RadioShack team, which will transfer its UCI racing license to the new TrekWorld team in 2014.
His exploits at the Vuelta have excited the cycling world, but the big question remains about his ability to repeat his amazing performances at age 42-plus next season.
But for now, Chris Horner has shown the world that age is just a number: No. 1.
Christopher Horner team of RadioShack-Leopard in the 18th stage of the Vuelta. (Photo: JAVIER LIZON EPA)
RadioShack-Leopard’s Chris Horner is in position to take his first Grand Tour victory after Friday’s 19th stage of the Vuelta a’ Espana (Tour of Spain).
The 41-year-old American Horner edged Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali at the finish of Friday’s stage to take a slim, three-second overall lead going into Saturday’s penultimate stage on the mountainous Alto de L’Angrilu, a horrific route studded with 25% grade climbing sections.
The stage winner was Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha.
As in the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, Sunday’s final stage is mostly ceremonial with the overall leader going into the stage retaining that position.
Horner’s overall lead gives him yet another record as the oldest rider to lead a grand tour. He is 41.
“Today was our last chance,” Rodriguez told VeloNews after the finish. “Tomorrow is such a hard stage and Horner is on such good form. The podium will be hard, but the Angrilu will put everyone in their places. The Angrilu never pardons.”
For the Angrilu stage, Horner is likely to get a powerful lead out from teammate Fabian Cancellara, whose big engine has been a factor in Horner’s success in this Vuelta. Cancellara has already signed for next season with the Trek WorldTeam, which will take over RadioShack-Leopard’s racing license. Horner does not have a contract for the 2014 season, but his exploits in the Vuelta should stir some interest despite his age.
Chris Horner winning stage 10 of the 2013 Vuelta!
Photo: Fotoreporter Sirotti
Chris Horner is riding so well at the Vuelta a’ Espana (Tour of Spain) that he’s even beating himself: On Tuesday, he won the 10th stage of the year’s final Grand Tour and was back on the podium getting yet another race leader’s red jersey.
That win also made him, at 41, the oldest rider to win a stage in a Grand Tour. He broke his own record set a week before in Stage 3.
More importantly, he put valuable time between himself and Vuelta favorites Vincenzo Nibali (48 seconds), and Alejandro Valverde (1:02.)
“There’s really nothing I can say or do to satisfy everyone,” he told VeloNews’ Andy Hood after the stage win. “At 41, I know people will have their doubts. There’s no way to convince everyone. I’m 41 years old, I’m the leader of the Vuelta. People can believe it or not.”
Horner was not implicated in the Armstrong doping investigations and insists he never saw or heard of team doping while on other teams managed by disgraced director sportif Johan Bruyneel. “I have never seen doping on one of the Bruyneel teams, from Astana to RadioShack,” he said. “It’s just disappointing, everything you read.”
Horner has not been offered a contract with the 2014 Trek WorldTeam that will take over the current RadioShack-Leopard-Trek team license. If he hangs on to win or even make the final podium in the Vuelta, he could have a number of potential suitors eager to sign him despite –- or perhaps because of -– his age.