Some are having trouble enjoying Chris Horner’s ride in the Vuelta this year. The 41 year old is riding high in the Vuelta. It’s attracting attention and praise but also questions because of his age and he seems to be performing at a level higher than before.
But what if the anxiety and suspicion expressed by some say more about the sport and how fans are still struggling to believe what they see, a mirror to reflect the viewer rather than the rider?
I get “is Chris Horner doping” emails but how am I supposed to know? It’s the same and only answer available for any rider. Earlier this year I wrote we can never know as a piece to frame a stock response to these emails. But back to the Vuelta and in the trial of Chris Horner the case for the prosecution is rather simple: he’s 41 and has never ridden as good as this before. Interestingly this time we’re not seeing as much analysis of actual performance, for example comparative times on the climbs or discussion over Watts per kilogram ratios. Maybe that’s just the Vuelta and fewer people are following?
The Man and not the Athlete?
Perhaps Horner has not helped his image with supportive quotes for Lance Armstrong, for example here is one from cyclingnews.com:
“Look, I’m certainly old enough and wise enough to understand the magnitude of the situation, but in the end he’s still getting prosecuted with no positive test. A lot of guys say they saw him and a lot say he did this and he did that, but I look at it and say: ‘USADA, WADA, UCI, they’re saying that the tests are worthless.’ So do you take all the tests, 500, 1000, I don’t know the number I’ve done in my own career and you basically say, that you took them for no reason?“
But he’s given other quotes where he’s raised doubts about doping and the practices of some teams, telling the same website in 2007:
“It is impossible to ride the front with your whole team and get to the final climb with most of your team still on the front — and be ready to come back and do it day-in and day-out“
In other words what we saw from some teams was “not normal”.
Some say Horner should state out loud that he’s riding clean, apparently he hasn’t said this. But he could shout this out loud from the top of the Angliru or write it down 100 times on paper and some would retort that “he would say that, wouldn’t he.” Words can help but the risk is this becomes a test of personality, articulation and verbal dexterity rather than substance.
The Winner’s Curse
The problem with some people’s doubts over Chris Horner is not really for Horner or the race, it’s become a systemic issue with the sport where some feel unable to trust the anti-doping controls. It happens elsewhere and particularly during a grand tour. You’ll remember Chris Froome got the treatment on a much bigger scale. But we had the same in the Giro where Vincenzo Nibali’s dominance got assessed by Andrew Hood on Velonews.
It’s understandable in the context of history where riders have aced anti-doping controls for years and if past precedent isn’t convincing enough we know that it’s still possible to microdose with EPO or use blood doping to evade detection. Worse there’s the simple matter of timing where concern over the likes of Mauro Santambrogio or Mustafa Sayar proves to be a matter of time. Cyclists risk being treated like politicians where many assume they are lying.
Is Age an Issue?
Amid the subjective matters of performance or media quotes Horner’s age is the one certainty and at 41 he is old enough to have fathered several of his rivals in the top-10. But surely the date of birth is the only factual element? If it’s unusual for a forty-something rider to do this we should be careful with assumptions that it’s impossible. In a large population it is still possible for someone to perform at a later age. Of course in a population of pro cyclists its possible for other factors to explain this.
The Problem is Your Problem
The more you look at it the more it’s your problem. If you are surprised by a rider’s improvement or even their age then you’re then left make up your own mind because there’s nothing else to do. In fact it’s like a mirror, as any suspicion and doubt reflects your view of the world rather than the truth. You could be right, you could be wrong.
Got a problem with Chris Horner? If so then it’s your problem. It might also be a collective challenge for the sport to restore faith so that racing can be enjoyed. But there’s not much Horner can do about it.
The past goes a long way to explaining the present day suspicion directed to those leading a grand tour, especially as the pendulum is swinging back. Chris Horner is in the hotseat of suspicion but others have been before. Take whatever view you want on Horner or any other rider in the Vuelta but it has to be just that, nobody can prove anything. The only safe prediction is that this phenomenon will continue in 2014.