|Eventual winner Chris Horner crossing the line on Stage 10 of the 2013 Vuelta à España - Photo credit: Jose Jordan/AFP/Getty Images|
Chris Horner has been bruised up pretty bad this off season. Not physically of course, but for a reigning grand tour champion to be unsigned at this stage of the off season is quite a slap in the face (or kick in the pants or punch in the gut or whatever violent euphemism you'd like to use). Add in the fact that it's because everyone is saying he's too old to compete, as well as the not so quiet whispers that his Vuelta victory had to be chemically enhanced and you have a recipe that would make many younger riders call it quits - but Horner has never had an easy road in this cycling world.
For those of us who have seen his circuitous route take him from hot shot domestic neo pro - to promising young American riding in the European peloton - to top level domestic racer who couldn't make it in the European peloton - to scrappy veteran who sold it all for another chance in European peloton - to feel good story of the European peloton finally winning some prestigious mid level races - to (almost?) too good to be true 1st time grand tour winner at the ripe old age of 42 - it's just par for the course.
And if the (velo)news article posted today about a possible Horner signing to Team Lampre Merida is to be believed it probably couldn't have worked out any better for him. The Italian pro team has a spot at the top tier of the sport and as such will contest all three grand tours as well as every race on the UCI pro tour. The squad is a mix of veteran riders and youngsters, grand tour competitors and classics specialists, sprinters, rouleurs and climbers. It is arguably one of the most balanced rosters in the business with names like former Giro winner Damiano Cunego, proven classics strongman Fillipo Pozzato, sprinter extraordinaire Roberto Ferrari and young leadout man with classics potential Diego Ulissi among others.
Add in newly acquired Tour GC contender and current world champ Rui Alberto Faria da Costa and you have a group that could set up Horner for a shot at either a Giro run or a Vuelta defense along with a big role in support of Costa at Le Tour in July.
Here's hoping things end up working out. Horner seems like a nice enough fellow and has easily proven that he belongs at the top level of the sport over the last decade. With only the Vuelta and the USPRO having taxed his legs in the last 8 months he should be as rested and ready as he will ever be as the season starts.
Lastly (and perhaps a little selfishly) those of us on the other side of age 40 can't help but live a little vicariously through this old man of the peloton as he rides the wheels off of riders nearly half his age. Assuming he's doing it clean, that's something I'll never ever get tired of.