by Neil Browne
Americans in Spain
This year’s Vuelta was arguably the most exciting grand tour we’ve had this season. My memories of the Giro d’Italia is mostly riders wearing rain capes. The Tour de France was, as expected, a Team Sky domination game. Everyone was waiting for the moment that Chris Froome took the yellow jersey. When he did, the race became a 14-day victory lap around France. However, the 2013 Vuelta a Espana was a tough course that was, in theory designed for Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). We had several leadership changes and breakaways that actually stayed away! The last stages of the race were dramatic – was Chris Horner going to beat Vincenzo Nibali? When the Vuelta finished, standing on the podium in Madrid as the overall winner was 41 year old Horner.
I won’t beat this topic too much, but to say Horner’s win was unexpected is the understatement of the year. Other than Rodriguez, the other favorite for victory was Nibali and he provided the drama. The Italian took the leader’s red jersey and then saw his lead chipped away until he only had 3 a second advantage. Would Horner overtake the Italian on the final climb of the Vuelta – L’Angliru? That was drama!
Even after the race was done and the barricades were taken down, the drama didn’t stop. Of course it turned out to be a tempest in a tea pot, but USADA’s anti-doping tester went to the wrong hotel which set off alarms everywhere in the cycling world. Turns out Horner had updated his whereabouts form, but that information hadn’t been relayed to the Spanish anti-doping tester. So the tester couldn’t find Horner, who, like any guy given the chance after being on the road for several weeks, decided to stay with his wife after the race at another hotel for some “alone time.” Obviously Horner subscribes to the Sean Kelly theory of no hanky-panky during a stage race.
USADA recognized it was their mistake and Horner wasn’t charged with a missed test. Unfortunately the “missed test” was leaked to a newspaper which ran the story. By now this story has died down, and rightfully so, but it stirred up the ongoing speculation that surrounds winners of grand tours. Was he trying to dodge the tester? Why wasn’t he staying with the team? How could someone of his age win a grand tour?
Now Team RadioShack has threatened to sue for damages. I’m hoping this is just bluster by The Shack management because it could set a dangerous precedent. USADA has a limited budget and if RadioShack-Leopard were successful in suing it could limit the amount of tests they conduct. Sure, there needs to be responsibility from USADA when they screw up, but it needs to be a two-way street. While some athletes have deserved the suspensions/bans due to infractions, there have also been questionable cases as well, which USADA have acknowledged to not having been entirely the athlete’s fault. The cases of Scott Moniger and Tom Zirbel spring to mind. Both were popped due to contaminated supplements. They did receive reduced suspensions, but it cost Zirbel a contract with Slipstream. I’m suggesting that mistakes are going to be made on both sides – from the athlete to the testers. Let’s use common sense and make rational judgments rather than knee jerk reactions. Suing USADA isn’t going to help the situation and will in fact drag it all back up again.
Horner has returned to the United States and of this writing, without a contract from his team for next year. I’m sure those details are being hammered out now and Chris is making sure there are enough zeros on the end of his paycheck.
I want to close out my thoughts on Horner – I don’t know if Horner doped or didn’t. If he didn’t it is a well-deserved victory earned with a combination of strength and tactics. If he did, then shame on him for destroying that rare opportunity to make an impact on the sport in the U.S. At this point I am willing to say he won it clean until I see evidence to the contrary. If I look at every result with a raised eyebrow there’s no point in bothering anymore. That said, I’m not going to be naïve either. Yeah, it’s a bit of a dance and I hope I’m not letting skepticism take the lead.
The Other American at the Vuelta
While Horner is assured a contract somewhere with someone on a WorldTour team another American so far isn’t so lucky. Sprinter Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) hasn’t had the strongest of seasons. Sure, he had four top-3 stage placings (which included a win – stage 4) at the Amgen Tour of California in addition to a smattering of podium appearances in such races as the Tour de Suisse, Denmark, and the Vuelta. But other than in California, a big win this year eluded him. It’s tough being a sprinter, there are so many quality riders. You have Mark Cavendish who can win out of a huge field sprint. Peter Sagan can also win from the bunch, but also break away, and solo on courses that are designed for a sprinter. Then you have Marcel Kittel who came into his own at the Tour de France. And of course there’s Andre Greipel. It isn’t easy trying to earn the green.
Taking the long view of Farrar’s career it has been a successful one. He’s had victories in all three grand tours, along with a few stage wins in smaller European stage races and semi-classics. However, as we all know, professional sport is all about what have you done for me lately. Farrar might have to take a step back before he can go forward in his career and that may mean rebooting on a domestic squad to get his sprinting mojo back.
Like Horner, I hope for the best for Farrar and maybe he can pull out a good result in one of the few remaining classics on the calendar. My fingers are crossed for him.
While you wait for Chris Horner and Tyler Farrar to sign their new contracts be sure to follow Roadcycling.com on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ - and sign up for the premium version of our Training Tracker service p/b TrainingPeaks, which lets you track and analyze your training and nutrition using the exact same tools as pro riders on WorldTour teams such as Sky, Saxo-Tinkoff and GreenEdge. Right now try TrainingTracker Premium for 7 days free with the promo/coupon code "REVIEW2013". Once you have signed up, easily log in to your Training Tracker account from all pages here on Roadcycling.com while you're here to check out the latest news from the pro road cycling scene - how very convenient.
Also, if you're located in the USA you can watch video highlights from all stages of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana in our videos section .