Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) is all but certain to race the Tour de France next month despite a harrowing crash that knocked him out of the Giro d'Italia.
Lampre general manager Brent Copeland confirmed to VeloNews that Horner, 42, is among 11 riders on the team’s long list to make the Tour Nine, but suggested the team is already planning on making Horner one of its protected GC riders.
“For the Tour, I personally think he’ll be in good condition, and he’s certainly convinced he’ll be in good condition, so that’s why he’s on the list,” Copeland told VeloNews by telephone. “We have 11 riders, so that means we have to take two riders off, but the idea now is go to the Tour with Rui Costa and Chris as the GC leaders, and Sacha Modolo for the sprints.”
Horner returned to racing last week in the opening prologue at the four-day Tour of Slovenia. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) won the 8.8-kilometer test against the clock, while Horner didn’t take any risks and came in 43 seconds behind to finish 68th.
Copeland said Horner’s quick return from a potentially devastating training crash in April is a testament to his tremendous recovery skills and determination to race.
“It’s a big surprise he’s back and ready to race the Tour,” Copeland said. “From the very first day of his crash, he said he’d be ready for the Tour. I didn’t believe it, but he did.
"It’s incredible to see how fast he’s recovered. The sacrifice and dedication he puts into training is incredible. His stretching, diet, training, it’s impressive to see. He’s an example to the younger riders.”
Horner has raced fewer than 20 days this year, but Copeland said Horner will be able to ride into the Tour with genuine ambitions and without too much pressure.
Reigning world champion Rui Costa will be racing for Lampre as an outright protected GC captain for the first time, with Horner as a second option.
“By the first real mountain climb, then we’ll know where everyone stands on GC; the race will work itself out,” Copeland continued. “The most important step is to get through that first week in England and over the cobbles, then we can start concentrating on the tactics and goals of each rider. The perfect scenario would be to have both Rui and Chris up in the GC going into the second half of the Tour.”
That Copeland is even considering Horner a legitimate GC threat reveals just how well the reigning Vuelta a España champion has bounced back from his April 11 crash while training in northern Italy.
Horner was riding through a dark tunnel along the shores of Lake Como when he was struck by a car, suffering a punctured lung, broken ribs and other cuts and bruises. He did not suffer a concussion, which was good news considering Horner was not wearing a helmet at the time.
“Luckily there was no concussion, but there were a lot of cuts to his head,” Copeland said. “The biggest problem was the collapsed lung and broken ribs. We were considering putting him at the Tour de Suisse, but the doctors said there was a risk of crashing on broken bones, which is obviously a lot worse, so the medical staff suggested another week for the ribs to fully heal, so that’s why he’s at Slovenia.”
The crash knocked Horner out of the Giro, but his speedy recover has opened the door for a likely and unexpected start in the Tour. Copeland also confirmed that Horner will race the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah before defending his Vuelta crown.