Cyclist Chris Horner is the kind of guy you’d want to kick back and share a beer with. Affectionately dubbed “the Redneck” by Lance Armstrong, Chris is as down-to-earth as they come. But don’t let his laid-back nature fool you—Chris is one of the world’s foremost cyclists and recently snagged tenth place overall at the 2010 Tour de France. Not too shabby for a thirty-eight-year-old dude who swears by a steady diet of hot dogs and hamburgers.
Horner had earned a much-deserved rest after the grueling Tour, but instead he hopped on a plane to compete in the Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove held in Elk Grove Village outside of Chicago. This three-day race (July 30–August 1) began just five days after the Tour de France’s completion. Chris was racing on tired legs without any teammates for support. The guy’s a machine!
Two days before the Tour of Elk Grove, Horner made an appearance at the nearby Highland Park Trek Store for an “armchair chat” with former pro cyclist Robbie Ventura. The two friends riffed on the 2010 Tour de France while 250 cycling geeks (including me) soaked up every word.
Robbie wasn’t afraid to ask the difficult questions, and Chris answered in his trademark affable manner.
Robbie: Chris, you had good legs, what if you were not on RadioShack and didn’t have to help Lance win? Would you have won the Tour?
Chris: I think I would have been in the top five if I had the single-minded goal to win the Tour de France outright. I wouldn’t have beaten second place winner Andy (Schleck: Saxo-Bank) or winner Alberto (Contador: Astana) though. They were riding on a different page from all of us.
What happened on the Tour? Things obviously didn’t play out as Team RadioShack expected.
I’d seen the power that Lance had been putting out, and I really believed that he was in great form. We had eight guys devoted to helping Lance win—including myself, and things looked good.
Things unraveled during the cobblestone stage early in the Tour (July 7). We started the stage with seven or eight of my teammates in the top twenty-five. It was the perfect scenario to help Lance. And then, we ran into bad luck. We lost [teammate] Kloden when his tire flatted between two sections of cobblestones. Lance and Levi flatted. Popo tried to help Lance until he [Popo] blew. It was chaos and we lost everybody.
Still, at the end of the day, I thought, Wow, we were only fifty seconds behind Alberto Contador. But Lance was extremely upset, and tension in the bus was high.
What about Lance’s crashes?
During the second mountain stage, Lance crashed three times. The first time, it took four guys to bring him back up to the front. During the second crash, Lance hit the pavement before the climb started.
Our guys worked really hard, and unbelievably we got him back to the front again. But I heard over the radio that Lance was having difficulty. Nobody realizes the effort it took to go those five to six miles to the front of the field.
When it was clear he was out of contention, my role began changing as I switched from helping Lance win to helping [teammate] Levi podium to riding for team classification.
As each day went by, things kept changing rapidly.
I was really happy to finish the Tour tenth overall. Especially after all the obstacles that we had gone through in that three-week period.
What was it like during Stage Two—the treacherous descent from the Col de Stockeu mountain?
It was unbelievable. I knew the descent would be bad. Andy and Frank [Schleck] said, “Let’s not get carried away here.” Guys kept passing us. Everyone started crashing. There were bikers down to my left, to my right … guys’ bikes sliding past me. I stopped by Lance, who had crashed and he was looking at his bike—it was all bent. I’ve had nine years of training as a mechanic, so I grabbed the bike, fixed it up, and said, “Let’s go.”
What’s life like with Lance?
Every day was absolutely insane. The amount of energy surrounding Lance is huge. The team bus always arrived to intense crowds. We had a one-way window, so as the bus arrived, we leaned forward and checked out the crowd. Then, it was back to business.
What’s life like on the road?
We often have horrid hotel rooms. There was one place where they had to spray the place for cockroaches. There were dead cockroaches lining the hallway. And that was supposed to be a rest day.
How many crashes did you have?
Only one. I landed on another rider so I escaped road rash. That was good.
But I’m close to forty, so I have back issues. When I crashed, my back bent backwards like a scorpion. So I had a back issue to deal with during the Tour. And then, at the easiest stage, I pulled my right hamstring about forty miles in. I over compensated with my left leg which caused a knee problem. I also had a calf muscle problem and could barely walk from the hotel room to dinner. The Tour de France finds any weak point in the body, concentrates on it, and destroys it.
I had good team doctors. Allen Lim went into every fast food restaurant on the route to find ice. You just can’t find ice in Europe. So Alan went running into all these fast food joints frantically trading jerseys for buckets of ice.
After a two-hour chat, Chris signed autographs and auctioned off his Tour worn RadioShack jersey for charity. It was a great event and I was glad to have been there.
Watch the exclusive video interview with Chris Horner conducted by Ronit Bezalel and fellow journalist Zack Thomas here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hIdgktlYNw
By Ronit Bezalel for Femme Fan