Bikerumor Interview – Chris Horner of Astana
Fresh from their team training camp in Tenerife, Chris Horner gave us an interview about what it’s like to have Lance on the team, what the Europeans think of the relatively new U.S. stage races like the tours of California and Georgia (and how we can improve their status among the “grand” tours), and what it’s like to be on a Pro Tour team.
BIKERUMOR: If you weren’t a pro bicycle racer, what would you be doing?
Flippin’ burgers (laughs)…I don’t know, I’ve never thought about doing anything else.
BIKERUMOR: I read about a lot of pro mountain bikers that have day jobs…are there many (or any) Pro Tour riders that have to keep a job on the side?
No. There’s many pro road racers that do, but no Pro Tour guys that keep jobs.
BIKERUMOR: Let’s talk about the Europeans for a bit. When you travel there for some of the big classics, what’s the overall attitude from the other racers and from the crowds toward American riders?
I think it’s always good from both. The Americans are welcome now, everybody’s used to us.
BIKERUMOR: How do you think the Europeans regard our relatively new stage races like the Tour of CA and Tour of GA? Do those events have any relevance to them?
They all love CA. All the riders want to come back and do it, and more teams want to come do it. They like it, they think it’s hard racing and the courses are good. I don’t think any racer is going to compare it to the Giro, but it would compare with something like Romandy (Switzerland).
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BIKERUMOR: Why do you think it took so long to get some good stage races in the U.S.?
We’ve always had them…I don’t think CA is any better than Tour DuPont, which was around since the ’80s. We’ve always had a couple good ones here. I don’t think anything’s changed except the location.
BIKERUMOR: What do you think it’ll take to get our events to the same stature of rides like the Giro and the Tour de France?
It just takes directors finally putting on some epic stages. They put on some that are really close to epic, but they never make them epic. There aren’t any mountain top summit finishes. If you want to throw your name in the same ring as those events, you’ve got to start putting on some epic stages.
Nobody watches the Tour de France for the flat stages. Everyone watches for the finish on Alpe D’huez and the Col. The U.S. organizers always finish in a city to get the bonuses and sponsorship dollars. If they lost money for a year or two and put the finish on a mountain top, they’d recoup the money in television rights and increased consumer interest in the long run. No one watches for the field sprints.
BIKERUMOR: What happens on local group rides, do people test themselves against you? Do you end up pulling a lot?
You get a mix. Sometimes, certainly when I go on group rides it may change the normal effect of the ride that day…sometimes if I need a good ride I’ll get on it, or if I just want to get some base miles I’ll just sit in and spin. It just depends on the type of training I need for that day.
BIKERUMOR: What goes on at a team training camp like your recent one in Tenerife?
Mainly it’s just about the riders getting together because that’s a December camp. It’s about getting all the riders together and getting everyone to know each other. Come January it’s more about getting the training program started, getting the team clothing.
BIKERUMOR: I’m surprised they let you guys go surfing…weren’t they afraid someone would wipeout hard?
I don’t know, I didn’t go surfing…maybe in the go-karting we did. I got a little beat up in that. If you broke something minor like an arm, I’m sure you could heal before the racing started.
BIKERUMOR: When your team is putting together the strategy for a grand tour, how much of it is planned out in advance and how much is developed on the fly during the race?
It depends on the team. Certainly with Astana I think it’ll be planned out even before the season starts.
BIKERUMOR: How do you develop the strategy…do you guys sit around reviewing tape of past races?
No, umm, more of the strategy for the race is just making sure your leader gets to the race fit. No one’s better than Lance and Contador, and if they come in fit, we just do our job. If they come in not as fit as we’d like that’s when we’d start working through more race strategy.
BIKERUMOR: Let’s say you’re feeling really good and think you could win a stage…can you just go for it, or do you need to get the team director’s permission?
If you’re at the Tour de France, you’d never be able to go for it. If we have a race leader, you’d never get the green light to do that. If we didn’t have the leader’s jersey or it was a smaller event, I’m sure we’d be able to just go for it.
BIKERUMOR: What’s been your most memorable race experience?
There’s too many…I’ve had a good career and many good races. I’ve ridden for a lot of good teams, it’d be too hard to pinpoint just one.
BIKERUMOR: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen during your racing career?
Oh, man, I just don’t know.
BIKERUMOR: What are you most looking forward to during the 2009 season?
Just racing with Lance and watching him leave a devastation trail behind him.
BIKERUMOR: You mentioned in a previous conversation that you’re on the short list for Astana’s Tour de France team…how close to the event do you guys decide who’s in?
Oh, I don’t know, It’s up to Johan (Bruyneel, Astana’s team director).
BIKERUMOR: Is it based purely on recent results, or what all goes into the selection process?
It’s never based on just recent results, it’s based on everything. There’s always a wide range of factors considered. Certainly if we had some kid you’d never heard of that won the Tour de Swiss, he’d likely get on, but then I’m on the team because of my long history and racing experience.
BIKERUMOR: What’s your particular specialty?
Hmmmm…I do a little bit of everything, but a little more climbing than anything else I imagine.
BIKERUMOR: OK, I’d be in trouble with our readers if I didn’t ask…what’s it like to have Lance on the team?
BIKERUMOR: When’s he gonna start wearing the team kit?
I would imagine at the beginning of the year, but you’d have to ask him. You know, he doesn’t need to wear the kit right now, he’s not on the team until next year. I don’t know what his contract says, he could have negotiated to wear his own kit.
BIKERUMOR: Last question: I read that you beat Lance in ’91 at the University of San Diego Grand Prix. In the big races, the top guys have their entire teams riding for them, which certainly helps position them to win, but it makes them look head and shoulders above the rest of the field. If there were no team dynamics and it were every man for himself…how much difference do you think you’d really see between the “legends” and the rest of a Pro Tour peloton?
Lance is the best there was when he left the sport…I’d be surprised if you see any less from him next year. If you isolated everyone from the team, you’d still see the best riders winning, they’d just be isolated by the rest of the pack…no one would work for them.
BIKERUMOR: Chris, thank you very much for your time and best of luck in 2009!