PEZ Talk: Chris Horner
Chris Horner is one of the old hands in the Pro peloton, at 41 years old he’s seen a lot of things happen and witnessed a lot of changes. How much longer he will be plying his trade on the roads of Europe he doesn’t know, but one thing is for sure; he loves every minute of it. We were lucky enough to catch up with Chris in Spain earlier in the spring for a good chat about everything cycling.
I keep bumping into Chris Horner round the Costa Blanca area, if it’s not at a RadioShack Leopard training camp it was their team presentation or it was when he was out training from the house he owns in the area. Anyway it was good to be able to sit down and have a chat about his season to come and, yes, that man Lance Armstrong’s name did come up in the conversation.
PEZ: OK, let’s get the Lance Armstrong stuff out of the way first. Have the Armstrong revelations affected you?
Chris Horner: Of course it has affected the whole of cycling, so that will have an effect on you, there is no doubt about that.
PEZ: Were you and the others in the team worried at any time that the team might stop, like with Rabobank?
Chris: Na, It’s a solid sponsor with RadioShack there and certainly Becca (Flavio Becca, Leopard team owner/backer) loves cycling and loves sport and he never at any time showed he was leaving or anything like that. So he didn’t show anything to the riders on this team that it would not continue.
PEZ: Did you watch the Oprah Winfrey show?
Chris: No, I was asleep, it was at 2am or something here in Europe. I read the stuff in the press the next day, but that’s about it.
PEZ: Armstrong did say that he didn’t use anything after 2005, if that is true, is that not one positive thing to have come out of it?
Chris: Yea especially for the young guys it gives them something to look forward to. Here with the Leopard team (Leopard-Trek Development team) we have the young guys coming up and they have a lot to look forward to in their cycling career. We have a lot of young guys on this team also, like Bob (Jungels), that understand that you can do the sport clean and enjoy racing your bike and have a good time and you don’t have to worry about the same problems.
PEZ: What would you say to the suggestion of a doping amnesty?
Chris: It’s a difficult question because you have some riders who tested positive that lost two years of their career, you’ve got a lot of riders who didn’t take anything and maybe they are not even in the sport anymore, maybe they suffered a lot over many years. Maybe you have riders who took something and maybe you have riders who took everything, so it’s always going to be unfair, life is always going to be unfair, there is no doubt about it. So I don’t know. For the sport I think it would be best to be able to wipe the slate clean and do an amnesty thing, but somebody’s feeling are going to be hurt and rightly so, somebody is always going to wronged by it…shit, life aint fair, it’s just the way it is. It certainly looks like that could be better for the sport, but I don’t know if that’s the answer.
PEZ: What about every time you buy a Big Mac, do you think about what could be in it?
Chris: As a professional athlete, very time you are tested you always worry, so I don’t know how many times I’ve been tested, some years twenty times, others forty or fifty, it really varies. Between the competition and the out of competition tests where they are showing up at your house or at training camps they come to the hotel, so you are always worrying that there might be something in the food or the water. People think that professional athletes have control on what they have to eat, I don’t prepare the food at the hotel, I wasn’t the farmer who raised the cow and I wasn’t the guy who slaughtered the cow, so has the meat been touched by thirty, forty, fifty hands before it shows up on my plate, I have no control of that. So yes you are always worried about a positive test, it is one of the problems, it’s always in the back of your mind, and you hope there is never an accident. You also have to remember that the people at the laboratories are human, they are just like you and I, maybe the sample he has just tested is positive and then he grabs your sample next, you got to wonder about cross contamination or he was just tired and he mixed the numbers.
PEZ: Would you say the pressure from the sponsors and the thought of winning a lot of money is what compels riders towards the dark side?
Chris: I think everything can have that effect, it can be the sponsor, it can be the money, it can be the personal glory, it could be the internal fight within every athlete, just wanting to be the best. Not wanting to go back home to your wife and kids, your mom and dad or your personal sponsor who has been looking after you since you were a kid, without a result. It always exists, that’s why we have USADA, WADA, that’s what the UCI are for, those guys are there to make sure everyone is on the up and up. It’s simple, in every sport, not just cycling, but in every sport in the World there should be better drug testing. If the drug testing became 100% then no one could cheat, that would eliminate all the questions, if you look at all the questions when a rider does test positive and he says “I didn’t do it.” Maybe he did or maybe it was a UFO finding that are out there, so you can hang a guy unless you are for sure. But if the testing is pretty clear and it’s pretty solid, then usually there is something there.
PEZ: So you think drug testing is better now than, say, 10 years ago?
Chris: That was a period of cycling that certainly the drug testing wasn’t as plugged in as it is now, you hear the stories of the US riders that their talk is about when they were doing this product or that product. Look at the way the drug controls have got better and stronger, with more at home and competition testing, it all started around that time, that’s what I meant in terms of the younger guys, it has become better 100% and I don’t have to have this interview with you and I don’t have to talk about what someone did in the past.
PEZ: One last question on this subject: How bored are you of the whole thing?
Chris: Oh god! That’s the hardest thing when we are doing interviews; I’ve been asked the same things like a thousand times, so the main thing with everyone on the team is that we all want to focus on the season. It’s a big thing for the young guys; they don’t have the same worries as a long time ago. I think many people think the sport is in a dark place, but I think it’s in a very bright place, in a better place right now.
PEZ: OK, time to move on. What is your main aim for this year?
Chris: It would be great if I could just aim at going to the Tour de France, but it’s really hard to come out of (Tour of) California with the Tour de France so close. Because I’m a professional I know the first races I go to are important, so at Tirreno I wanted to come in really strong. (After Tirreno-Adriatico Chris had a tendon problem and returned to the US). I’d like to win California and then hopefully keep some kind of fitness from California to the Tour de France, but that’s asking a lot. Last year I was good in the Tour, but I was missing that 5% lat I had during California, I thought I had very, very good form in California last year. OK it had been a hot day the day before I had a bad time trial, but if I hadn’t been dehydrated and I had done a little better in the time trial I think I would have won Cali. So I’d like to go back and try to repeat that.
PEZ: How many more season do you think you will carry on racing?
Chris: I don’t know (laughs)! It’s funny, I’m at a stage when I’m rolling out of bed and your always sore rolling out of bed and maybe I’m thinking “man, I don’t know, maybe that’s it, I’m done.” Then you get on the bike and feel fantastic, so really it’s on the bike that I feel best all day. When I get out of bed I’m sore and tired, when I go to bed I’m sore and tired, but between hour one and before hour four I feel fantastic. So that’s why I love riding my bike, it’s literally where I feel best all day is when I’m on the bike.
PEZ: You would never stop riding a bike?
Chris: No, I would never stop riding a bike. Everyone asks me when am I going to retire? It doesn’t matter because I won’t stop riding a bike, maybe I would race as an amateur in the US and stuff like that. I wouldn’t stop, I love it, it’s just such a great sport. Guys go out running and they go round the block, you run for 30 minutes and you’ve still not left your neighbourhood, but if you ride your bike you can go everywhere and you can ride your bike with a hundred guys. I can go out and ride my bike with you guys and I can go out and ride my bike with the best guys in the World and we can all enjoy each other company. When I do the group rider in San Diego; there’s a hundred people on those group rides, how many different sports can you do where you can hang out with a hundred people, have a chat, then kill everybody and then have a chat again, then stop and have coffee before getting going again and killing them another time. It’s a great sport.
PEZ: And that is what motivates you?
Chris: Yea absolutely, it’s just the joy in the sensations that you feel on a bike, like I said its where I feel the best. I’m pain free when I’m on the bike, of course there are certain times when you are racing when you are not pain free, or in the first week of training or something like that, well that’s pretty painful, but after that when you’ve been riding on the bike for two or three weeks and the form starts to come round, all of a sudden you really feel good on the bike.
PEZ: I saw you the other Sunday; you must have been on your way back.
Chris: Yea, by myself. I couldn’t train with the other guys, they were too fit! So I started with them and did two hours with them, but when they started going really hard I just had to do my own pace. I finished the first camp and had food poisoning, so I was off the bike for seven days, then I was on the home trainer for one hour (it had been snowing in Oregon in the winter) with some hiking or skate skiing or even go out on the snow mobiles for a second part of training. So all winter has been a two part training per day, but only a short one on the bike and then something else to strengthen the body after that.
PEZ: That Sunday was cold and a bit damp.
Chris: You got to remember some of these guys were race fit back then, they started the first week in February, for me it was March. So those guys had to be going at 100% on their training rides and had to be peaking on their form, for me I needed to keep my body rested and relaxed and keep it building really easy and steady, I start riding hard in February, but its January for the Classics guys, I have plenty time to take it easy.
PEZ: What is life like when you are in the US?
Chris: Well it’s never boring! I have three kids, one is in elementary school, one is in middle school and one in high school, so it’s never boring.
PEZ: What about the team this year?
Chris: Well we have Cancellara, who is great for the team in the Classics. The Schleck brothers for the Grand Tours. Me and Andreas Klöden for the shorter stage races and a lot of other guys that can go really well. Haimar Zubeldia was sixth at the Tour de France last year, so we have a really rounded team with the Classics guys and someone else for everything else.
PEZ: After the Tour would you take a break and then go to the end of the season?
Chris: Yea that’s what I’d like to do, but it’s too far away to honestly tell. Honestly I would love to do La Vuelta, I’ve seen the course, and I think its ideal for me. I’ve been to Colorado and Colorado is not good for me, it holds nothing for me. The climbs aren’t steep and they are very long, but they are four and a half, maybe five percent, everyone at our level can climb five percent. Cavendish can climb five percent and he can’t climb at all and so you can’t drop those guys. I mean it’s literally the last road stage, when we were in Boulder, the last climb was pretty hard, but for a guy of my weight and my power and we are going over for the third time doing 45 K’s an hour I can’t get away from those guys. So I really prefer a race like La Vuelta, maybe coz I’m an American I’ll get stuck doing Colorado, but if it was up to me I do the Tour of Spain.
PEZ: What do you think of the course for this year Vuelta a España?
Chris: Oh its beautiful, I love it because if you’ve got good legs you’re going to win a stage and if you don’t, then you ride to the last mountain and lose a bunch of time and get into a break later on in the race and you try to win out of a lesser quality group of guys. So if you have good legs you’ll be on TV and you’re earning your contract and have a chance to ride for GC and if I don’t then I can get on TV by racing with a lesser quality mountain guys and have a shot at winning a stage.
PEZ: The second last stage goes up the L’Angliru, its getting a bit of a habit for the Vuelta to do this.
Chris: Yea absolutely, it keeps the suspense and the beautiful thing about the Vuelta is that they are four-four and a half hour stages, we are not running five and a half-six hour stages, they start at the hotel, they end at the next hotel, normally the transfers are not that long, but for the TV audiences there is a lot of excitement, it’s absolutely fabulous, you have a good quality field there, you can’t just let the break take ten minutes there and bring it slowly back, when the break goes you have to keep it on a short leash and if you want to win a stage you got to bring it back before the second to last climb, which means the second to last climb is going to be epically fast and last one you are going to see “Game On!” Really in a four and a half hour race you only have an hour of a dull period and it’s not that dull.
PEZ: When I saw you at the RadioShack training camp in December your suitcases had been lost somewhere over the Atlantic, did ever find it?
Chris: Yea I did, it went all the way to Germany I found out later, after four or five days later they found it.
It was a pleasure to chat with Chris, he’s very open on all subjects and a conversation with him is just like the one you would have with your buddy at the coffee stop during a ride. We hope he gets over his tendon problems and has a great Tour de France and maybe get to ride this year’s Vuelta a España and maybe be in the Pro peloton for a few more years yet.