American Chris Horner makes 2014 season debut for Lampre-Merida at the Challenge Mallorca

Chris Horner returned to racing at 42 years old today with team Lampre. He finished in the group in the second day of the Challenge Mallorca. The group also included Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who starts his season, and Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk), 22 years younger than Horner.

In September, the American from Oregon became the oldest Grand Tour winner when he won the Vuelta a España at 41. However, he spent the winter looking for a team after his contract expired with RadioShack. The team switched sponsors to become Trek Factory Racing and could not reach a deal to keep Horner.

Team Lampre-Merida stepped in at the end of last month. The Italian first division team signed him for one year with the idea to take him to the Giro d’Italia. He told Spanish newspaper AS that he had to take a pay cut.

“I have bonuses for results. So more victories, more money,” Horner said. “I signed a good contract, though. I’m happy mostly because I can continue to compete.”

Horner, then with long hair, raced in Europe with Française des Jeux from 1997 to 1999. He returned from the USA in 2005 and raced for Saunier Duval, Lotto, Astana and RadioShack. He won the Tour of the Basque Country in 2010 and the Tour of California in 2011. Last year’s win, a Grand Tour ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 14 years younger, raised doubts.

Horner released his biological passport data and the UCI said that all anti-doping tests from the Vuelta were clean. Lampre, which is trying to shake off the Mantova Investigation, was convinced enough to sign him. Also, team manager Brent Copeland said that the team needs to internationalise and that he wants to reach out to potential sponsors in the USA.

The deal suited Lampre and Horner both. Horner, like Sam Sánchez who just signed for BMC Racing, had little time left ahead of the 2014 season.

“Last year, we had 22 teams trying for 18 WorldTour licences,” Horner said. “After RadioShack, Vacansoleil and Euskaltel pulled out, there were 18 teams for 18 places. Last year, four or five teams would’ve fought for me. This year, no one needed my points.”

With World Champion Rui Costa racing the Vuelta a España, Horner aims at the Giro d’Italia. He said that he hopes for a second or third place and that winning would be difficult with Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Richie Porte (Sky) in attendance. He added that he feels obliged to return to the Vuelta later in the year to defend his title.

Horner, 36 days younger than the first division’s oldest rider Jens Voigt, did not say for how long he would continue racing.

“I thought that at 36 or 37 I wouldn’t be able to give any more,” Horner said. “But I feel that my legs are going well and my motivation is high. I don’t know when I will retire. I guess I will continue as long as my body and mind can withstand racing.”