Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard), barring a freak incident, will become the oldest winner of a Grand Tour tomorrow in Madrid. The 41-year-old American defended his three-second gap in the Vuelta a España, in fact he added to it, over Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) – 13 years younger.
“I think it’s an amazing moment – everyone at home on the couch got to watch a legendary moment. It maybe will never happen again in cycling; to watch someone my age to win a Grand Tour,” Horner said at the finish today on L’Angliru. “I hope all of you enjoyed every pedal stroke; I hope you loved every moment of it the same way I did.”
By winning the Vuelta a España tomorrow, he will beat Firmin Lambot’s record by five years. Belgium’s Lambot won the Tour de France in 1922 at 36 years of age. The record will add to the Mirador de Lobeira stage win two weeks ago, when Horner became the oldest Grand Tour stage winner. Doing so, he pushed Pino Cerami off top spot. Cerami, who migrated from Sicily and took out citizenship in Belgium, won a stage of the 1963 Tour de France at 41 years old (and 95 days). Horner is 41 and 10 months and celebrates his birthday on October 23.
Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), 22 years old and today’s stage winner on L’Angliru climb, was only five years old when Horner first joined a European pro team. Of note, Horner rode 1997 through 1999 with Elissonde’s future team, FDJ or Française des Jeux. After 1999, Horner went back to racing mostly in the USA. He returned, though without his long hair, to full-time Euro racing in 2005.
The rider from Bend, Oregon, stands alongside several others like Joop Zoetemelk and Carlos Lopes. Zoetemelk was the oldest World Champion at 38 in 1985. Portugal’s Lopes, at 38, became the oldest Olympic marathon winner at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Italy’s Nibali won the Giro d’Italia earlier this year at 28 years old. He already won the Vuelta in 2010, at 25, and aimed for a second victory. However, Horner edged seconds out of the Sicilian over the last three days. He moved within three seconds on Thursday, leap-frogged Nibali and moved into the lead by three seconds yesterday and today, dropped his rival. Nibali tried several attacks, but Horner’s move stuck at two kilometres remaining. Instead of three, he now leads by 37 seconds.
He will become the first American to win a Grand Tour since Greg LeMond in 1990 Tour. Remember, Lance Armstrong lost his seven Tour de France titles last October for doping. Considering he won two stages in the Vuelta and a desire to continue for two more years, it appears odd that RadioShack has not renewed his contract. The team said it is complicated to negotiate with big stars, but that it is interested in keeping Horner.