What an exciting finish to the Vuelta a Espana and what a great win for Chris Horner. Even before the Vuelta started, Horner was talking about his good legs and how he was aiming to win the race. Of course no one really believed it, except perhaps Chris Horner.
Then when the race got underway and Horner won a couple of mountain top stages, we all began to believe that at least a podium place was possible, but even on the penultimate stage, Chris with only a 3 second lead, and the way Nibali kept attacking, I think I was like most people who could see the end result going either way.
Now looking back it is easier to see the many factors that swayed to result Horner’s way. He was fresher. His knee surgery was earlier in the year, and he had enough time to recover, then train to reach peak form just at the right moment. He must have felt this, which is why he was so confident in his predictions at the start of the Vuelta.
Everyone else was tired. Most certainly Valverde and Rodriguez, they had ridden the Tour de France that had finished only a little over a month before the Vuelta. Even Nibali, (Above left.) who missed the TDF, never found the form he had earlier in the year at the Giro d’Italia. He was climbing at around 20 watts less than he did in the Giro. It is hard for a rider to peak for two Grand Tours in one year.
The Vuelta a Espana is the hardest of the three Grand Tours, with few flat stages, mostly mountain climbs day after day. Chris Horner is a pure climber, it is his strength, but the only strength he has, so this race suited him.
As expected Chris lost time in the Time Trial, (1 minute and 29 seconds.) but there were enough mountain stages after the Time Trial that Chris could keep nibbling away at Nibali’s lead. (Sorry ‘bout that, I couldn’t resist.)
Let’s face it, had there been less mountain stages, and possibly a Time Trial near the end, the result could have been a lot different. The result at the end was only close because of the time trial, and on the other hand Nibali was only in contention because of his minute and a half gained in the TT.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to take anything away from Chris Horner, this was a superb win. But everything aligned perfectly, his preparation, the way the event was planned, and even the weather. The one really cold, wet day, was one of the few days that Nibali out climbed Horner. Nibali is known to excel in cold, wet conditions. Another mountain day with bad weather could have changed the end result.
What a joy to watch Chris Horner climb. His unique style. It is always a pleasure to watch someone do something well, but do it differently from everyone else.
Most riders sit down to climb, occasionally getting out of the saddle when the going gets real tough.
Chris Horner stands up for almost the entire climb, sitting down occasionally when the incline levels out.
But at the same time he makes it look so easy, clearly in a higher gear than everyone else, you never see him struggle. And that smile on his face all the time. Okay, so it is probably a grimace, but it is a grimace that looks like a smile.
What about those questions about Horner’s age. How can he perform at this level at 41 years of age? It is true that most professional cyclists reach their peak in their late twenties, and start to slow after their mid-thirties. However, cycling is an endurance sport, and the Vuelta with so many mountain stages is an “Extreme” endurance event.
An athlete may lose speed and power by the time they hit 40, but what an older person gains is the ability to endure, and suffer pain. And that is what this year’s Vuelta was all about. Earlier this month a 64 year old woman swam 110 miles from Cuba to Florida, I doubt a twenty something could do that, or would even attempt it.
What it came down to in the end was Chris Horner’s determination, and his ability to suffer. Then there is that other thing that comes with age…. Experience. Chris Horner is a superb tactician, and will probably make a fine Director Sportive sometime in the future.
Footnote: The title for this piece was inspired by “The problem with Chris Horner.” On Inner Ring last week.