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LEEDS, England (VN) — It’s been a bumpy road for Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida). He’s riding the Tour de France after a bad crash in Italy, his form a bit underdone, and he’s got a cobblestone stage on the horizon — stage 5.
A bumpy road indeed for the 2013 Vuelta champion, and it promises to get bumpier. But in the sunny northern morning, he was all smiles.
“It’s always good here. That’s why everybody loves the Tour. I mean look at the crowds — you can hardly get to sign on. For me it’s also, maybe, my first big race of the whole year, because I haven’t done much. After getting hit the in tunnel and stuff, I spent so much time recovering … So now we’re here.”
“Here” is the biggest bike race in the world. The 42-year-old Horner hopes to ride into his best shape before the Tour barrels into the big mountains later in the Tour. “I’m hoping it comes,” he said. “You got a week. When you get to the climbs you can’t fake it. You can fake it this week. You can survive here for sure, but you can’t fake when you get to the mountains. You’re either going to be good or not good. Hopefully it comes good this week.”
Before those mountains, though, come the stones. Stage 5 features nine sectors of cobbles totaling 15.4 kilometers, plenty of opportunity for disaster to strike the featherweights of the general classification. On that, Horner remains calm. The last time he hit the cobblestones, in 2009 at the Tour, he came into the first sector in the top 25, he said, and his form this year is as good as it was then, generally.
“So I’m not so worried about that. When you guys see the cobbles, they’re scary for the crashes, but you don’t have all the big classic guys there. So it’s not like Roubaix or something where half the field is 180-pound guys with massive power. I mean, you got Cancellara here, and Tony Martin … That can do some real damage, but those guys have to wait for their teammates, so they’ve got to ease up a little bit,” he said. “They can’t just go solo. Maybe Cancellara has the freedom this year to just do whatever he wants. But if they tell him to wait for his GC guys, then he’s going to have to back off. And if he backs off, then I’m going to be there too.”
Horner laughed at that last bit before clipping in and pedaling toward his seventh Tour de France, a smile on his face.