On Sunday Chris Horner became the first American to win in 68 editions of la Vuelta, riding into Madrid wearing the red leader’s jersey after more than 84 hours of racing.
Horner: “I loved this course. When I first saw the design I knew it was perfect for me and my style of racing. We started with the team time trial. With Fabian Cancellara leading us, I knew he could put me in a position to take the jersey. I don’t think at that point I believed I could win the Vuelta, but I did feel the podium was possible and that I could wear red at some moment in the race. I came here super motivated.”
In addition to becoming the first American to win the overall in Spain, Horner, at 41 years of age, becomes the oldest rider to ever win a Grand Tour. Horner turned professional in 1995 and raced mostly domestically after a brief stint in Europe. He returned to European racing in 2004 and saw huge success in the Tour of the Basque Country in 2010 as well as the Amgen Tour of California in 2011, but the Tour of Spain win represents the biggest win of his long career.
Horner: “I’ve been a professional for almost 20 years so this represents a lifetime of hard work. A Grand Tour is always a goal for a cyclist to show how good a rider you are. The memories will last forever and the riders I came with were amazing and my team has been fantastic. My family is home watching. My daughters are 16 and 14, and my son is 11 so they are old enough to appreciate this. Many riders winning in their 20’s and early 30’s have small children but mine are at the age where they can appreciate what Dad is doing. When I get back, it will be quite the topic at home.”
The win didn’t come easy. Horner first took the win in Stage 3 and earned his first red jersey, only to see it go to Vincenzo Nibali the next day when a gap opened up on the finish line. Horner won a second time on Stage 10 to reclaim the race lead but again saw it go back to Nibali the following day. The final taking came on Stage 19 and this time the lead stayed with him but not without a huge battle to keep it. Nibali needed three seconds on the final summit of L’Angliru and took the fight to Horner on Stage 20, attacking over and over in an attempt to gain the upper hand. But Horner defended and in the end held 37-seconds to the Italian rider.
Horner continued: “Yesterday you saw how much effort Nibali put in to try to win this race. It was no walk in the park for me. It was probably the hardest victory I’ve ever had in my career, and possibly the hardest race I’ve had in my career.” Joining Horner and Nibali on the final podium is Alejandro Valverde in third place at 1:36.
A knee injury in March took Horner from competition for five months, but grit and determination brought him back to racing fitness with the Vuelta his prime target of the season. “Every year I am motivated to win and try to be the best cyclist I can be,” said Horner. “I’ve had great times throughout my career with victories standing on podiums. Every victory is special but today is an amazing day. I hope the fans appreciated this race. It’s so complicated to get to this point and then have such good luck, to stay healthy and not crash at the wrong moment. All factors have to come together just right to bring home the win.”
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