The Moment The Race Was Won: The Vuelta

Stage 18 of the Vuelta and the summit finish to Peña Cabarga. At just 565m above sea level, this was a short and sharp finish and the kind of climb where Vincenzo Nibali might have hoped that Chris Horner’s 41 years might have cost him some of the spring in his pedalstroke. But they approached the finish it was Horner who pulled away from Nibali and this showed who was climbing better. The American narrowed the gap to just three seconds and with two mountain stages to follow, the race was his to win.

As ever it was about more than one moment. Horner lost time in the team time trial and had a deficit in the mid-race solo time trial too. The chart below shows where he took time, the positive red bars show the amount of time in seconds Horner took off Nibali on each stage, the sky-blue bars show the stages and amount where Nibali took time, for example Nibali took ten seconds in the opening team time trial and then on Stage 3 Horner finished three seconds ahead.

The simple take is that Horner was consistently out-climbing Nibali, the Italian was only in contention thanks to the time trial.

Horner and Nibali swapped the red jersey for much of the race but it took time to establish them as certain podium finishers. It was a race of surprises and action with more highlights than Pippo Pozzato’s hair:

  • Take Philippe Gilbert’s win in Tarragona, the world champion finally celebrating and this after the prior duel with Zdeněk Štybar
  • Michael Mørkøv’s sprint win sits in the records but at the cost of Tony Martin’s 174.9km breakaway
  • The battle between Fabian Cancellara and Martin saw the Swiss rider get an advantage for once
  • Daniele Ratto won the epic day in the Andorra where as others left the race with hypothermia
  • The next day the sun came out to illuminate some of the finest scenery in the Pyrenees

A lot of the excitement came because the sprinters were scared away by the big climbs, we had a race where breakaways could succeed because there was no team willing or able to control it and even on the days when it looked like a sprint finish was coming a late attack could change the scenario.

Age-related questions
Debate rages about Horner’s age and his ability. As I’ve said before, take a view based but this is a hypothesis that you cannot test. But it speaks to the challenge facing pro cycling that race-winning performances are subject to plenty of scepticism. Perhaps his team have a role to play in getting his power data out? Either way the past still casts a dark shadow over the sport and remember it  turns out Horner is now the first American to win a grand tour since Greg LeMond in 1990.

Horner’s still without a contract for 2014 but it’s reported there is interest from the Alonso-Euskaltel team plus I gather Trek are interested too. He’ll be 42 in 2014 and his age has to factor into negotiations; it seems likely teams would prefer to offer a one year contract.

Los treintañeros
Horner’s age is so advanced that we forget the others. Nibali (28) is his prime but the likes of Alejandro Valverde (33) and Joaquim Rodriguez (34) are unlikely to get any quicker. In fact look around and it’s hard to spot the youner Spaniards. Samuel Sanchez (35) and even Alberto Contador and Igor Antón are the wrong side of 30 now. Scanning the overall classification is Daniel Moreno (32) and it’s José Herrada at 12th overall as the first Spaniard under 30. Mikel Landa is 23 but he looks set to be a pure climber. The Vuelta has no best young rider competition.

France vs Colombia
By contrast we saw the success of several young French riders with Warren Barguil in particular taking two stage wins whilst Thibaut Pinot rode to seventh place overall, a comforting result and he seemed at ease on some of the descents. By contrast the Colombians were absent: Rigoberto Uran, Sergio Henao and Carlos Betancur were obvious picks before the race. Henao apparently got a hunger flat on the first climb but he was starved of success for the rest of the race; he’ll be back and the same is true for Uran and Betancur. Note the diversity of winning nations for each stage, in total riders from 12 different nations won a stage.

Spanish Rainbows
The Vuelta gets used a training event for the World Championships. It might sound disrespectful but looks good on TV. Tony Martin’s solo breakaway and Philippe Gilbert’s repetitions brought spice to the race. Meanwhile Diego Ulissi sems to have gone up a gear and of course you can go through the top-10 overall and see obvious candidates for medals in Firenze.

The Verdict
Vincenzo Nibali might have led the race for a long time but he was just keeping the jersey for Chris Horner. The American proved the strongest in the race with a consistency on the climbs that allowed him to overcome a significant loss in the time trial. But the “winner’s curse” compounded by his age and a relative lack of prior results mean there’s some debate and until this stops, no matter who wins the sport loses.

It’s lucky there’s no need to chose between each of the grand tours because each has been special in a different way. Coming towards the end of this year the Vuelta offered immediate variety and surprise to counter any fatigue and antipathy. It now sets up the final stretch of the season with the Worlds and Il Lombardia to follow.

Longer term it’ll be interesting to see what format Unipublic take with the race. Unlike the Tour de France which can only find challenging mountains on its borders, Spain has a series of small but taxing mountain ranges dotted around the country. But how much these are used and whether the 2014 race returns with a wild number of summit finishes remains to be seen, is the Vuelta a festival for the climbers or will it be open for others?

133 thoughts on “The Moment The Race Was Won: The Vuelta”

  1. For me, Horner’s win raises more questions than it answers. How the heck a guy of 42 with a rather thin palmares ends up winning a Grand Tour? Why is his current team seemingly less-than-enamored with having him on the team in 2014? Is there a new “secret sauce” available in cycling, something that the users are very sure is so-far undetectable, or is pro cycling suddenly 100% cleaned up and these odd results are really the way things should be? So far this is a season of cycling that gives me an uneasy feeling in the stomach, despite its entertainment value.

      • His 20th place in the Stage 11 ITT almost one and a half minutes behind Nibali is really suspicious. Especially as it followed a rest day.

        Rumor has it he was drafting Cancellara to get results.

    • Horner has always been a strong climber. Here’s a little photographic evidence:

      Really nice guy, but there is something to it regarding his domestique duties. He only raced in Europe briefly in the later 90s for FDJ, but it didn’t work out for whatever reason. At the peak of his early career, he won everything in the USA. Wen he went back to Europe, it was for pure domestique duty, and he rarely was a designated team leader.


    • The bit about his team not wanting him next year isn’t that suspicious, really. When building up your roster in mid-August, how much would you want to have a 42/43 year old, who’s been out injured for most of the season? The prudent thing to do is to assume that he’ll be injured for much of next year too and that, when he’s fit, his performances will be at a lower level than this year’s. Not very attractive. Especially if he now expects a GT winner’s salary.

      It may be that one of the Spanish teams now makes him a 1 year offer, as they would be able to get some value out of the Vuelta winner in Catalunya and Pays Basque. A US team might be interested too, in the first GT winner since LeMond.

    • Maybe he didn’t have it on the biggest climbs but one attack in the worlds could be enough, plus he could time trial better than others, ie solo away.

      But Firenze has a very long list of contenders, we’ll see even more in Québec this weekend too.

      • Riders who ride the Vuelta as training tend to make sure they still have some gas in the tank. Seeing them battle on the Angliru, I think Nibali and Horner really went to the bottom of their reserves. Horner looked more death than alive after the finish. So like Duncan I doubt whether they can be back in form fast enough.

        I also wonder what France will do now that Barguil has made such a strong impression. Will they go for him at the World Championships or stick with Voeckler and Rolland?

  2. If nothing else, just for the sake of playing devils advocate:

    If you consider the top 4 finishers in this year’s Vuelta, Valverde and Rodriquez both raced in the Tour and did not seem to take it easy when they did. Nibali raced hard and won a very demanding Giro. Other potential ‘favourites’ such as Sky’s Henao or Uran flopped (the latter possibly still feeling the burn from trying to keep up with Nibali during the Giro). Horner seemed to be the most rested. As he put it (more or less), was he simply at the right race at the right time?

    He has not won grand tours before, but has won reasonably challenging races in recent years (Tireno-Adriatico, Tour of the Basque Country, Tour of California). Clearly he has some experience when it comes to winning overalls in smaller stage races. Plus racing since 1996 tactically he would have been more experienced than any of the up-and-coming climbers/GC contenders (e.g. Barguil).

    Most people who are questioning his performance seem to share the assumption that a 42 year-old athlete should under no circumstances be competitive without the help of doping. It seems like a fairly simplistic explanation. Statistically it may carry a bit of weight: It is true that not many cyclists or athletes in general win major events past their 40th birthday. However, there is no statistic that I am aware of that suggests that a cyclist / other athlete who wins a major event over the age of 40 (barely in Horner’s case) is likely to be doping.

    Anyway, just some thoughts…

    • As you say, “Statistically it may carry a bit of weight…” Alas it doesn’t carry any objective weight or evidentiary weight, certainly not of the scientific sort. Frankly I think there’s more work needed to be done to understand the real potential of older athletes. Sports, including cycling, tend to shuffle off older participants, and it would seem that’s been done without any scientific justification.

          • Sorry, the question is not whether ‘a’ 42 year athlete can a win a GT. The question is whether Chris Horner can win a GT at 41? In the previous 40 years has he ever given us any indication of this hidden talent?? He’s shown us that he’s a decent rider and sworn testimony has shown that he’s willing to take banned substances to boost his performance.

            His performance has suddenly seemed to have a whole new boost, to levels which have never been seen before….

    • It’s true that not racing another GT in the year helps to win the vuelta (Contador in 2012, Cobo in 2011, Valverde in 2009). But there is a major difference with those 3 riders and Horner, it’s that Horner has missed a good part of the season because of a major injury and surgery which (by his own admition) has impacted his training. It would be impressive for a rider at his peak to pull this off, but now for a rider that is 42 years of age…

      Now to say that his superior tactical ability would help him win against younger rivals (btw Barguil was never a GC contender)… but the riders behind him were Nibali, Valverde and Rodriguez, hardly newcomers, all multiple GT winners and/or podium finishers. And this Vuelta was hardly a “tactical” course, so many summit finishes only made this a pure contest of climbing strength.

      Now I cannot think of an athlete, in any endurance sport, who has performed at this level past 40 without achieving major results before. For Horner to win a Vuelta against such quality riders at this age, he would have been dominant in the sport 10 years ago. And to suggest that he was prevented from shinning because he was riding in service of other is completely ridiculous. So many GT winners have started their careers by riding in service of another, but have managed to show their true potential nevertheless. Now Horner with his great tactical sense has never managed this in more than 15 years!

      • “For Horner to win a Vuelta against such quality riders at this age, he would have been dominant in the sport 10 years ago.”

        Would he? Look at the riders who were dominating 10 years ago. Perhaps there’s a decent reason why Horner didn’t achieve so much during that period of his career.

        Also, lack of motivation is one of the major reasons why sportsmen tend to fade in their 30s. Perhaps Horner has retained motivation through being denied the wins he would have racked up in a clean, parallel cycling world.

        I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate here, but maybe the top tier of cycling has come down to meet him and maybe this has also helped him retain necessary enthusiasm. Few can rival him on that quality, after all.

        • Implying that Horner wasn’t winning 10 years ago because he was riding clean against doped riders is completely ridiculous. First there are very good reasons to believe that Horner did in fact dope 10 years ago, but let’s assume he didn’t for the sake of argument. Many clean riders were winning races in the “EPO-Lance era”, even TDF stages, so if Horner is such a formidable rider that he can win a Vuelta at 42 against the best GT riders in their prime, I would still expect him to be a rider with many victories on his palmares. Maybe not a GT win or maybe even not a week-long stage race, but a stage of a major race here in there, especially if he is a tactical genius like everybody is saying. But the oldest notable win I can think of is a stage win at the Tour de Romandie in 2006.

          Statistics show that the age of stage winners in GT has slowly gone down in recent years, which would seem logical if you agree with the assumption that there is less doping in the peloton, because doping greatly helps recuperation, and this is where an aging rider will struggle against younger riders. Now if you agree with that assumption, you have to admit that Horner is going completely against this trend, he’s improving as he ages. In fact, Horner came to prominance as a rider in the years that are supposedly “cleaner”, so his progression looks more like that of a rider who has kept doping in a peloton that is doing it less and less.

          And again, looking back at past cycling performances is hard because the doping history of the sport kind of twists past results of riders who have spanned different doping “eras”, that is why we can try to find answers in other endurance sports. Now I cannot for the life of me think of a single athlete, in any endurance sport, whose performances have increased as he reaches past 40. If you know of one, please enlighten me!

          • “Now I cannot for the life of me think of a single athlete, in any endurance sport, whose performances have increased as he reaches past 40. If you know of one, please enlighten me!”

            Well, of course, there’s Chris Horner. You may well couter by saying that he doesn’t count because he doped. I have no idea: may be did, maybe he didn’t. Unless one of his tests from the Vuelta comes back positive in the next few weeks then I suspect that we will never know.

            Personally, I think the UCi should start regularly retesting stored samples from major races, say from five years ago, with the state ofthe art testing techniques of the day. Initially it probably wouldn’t be great for the record books but I think that in the long term it would do a lot remove doping from the sport.

            Better still WADA should enforce this across ALL sports. I can see the pro-US sports and football in Europe agreeing to this real quick! 🙂

          • “Now I cannot for the life of me think of a single athlete, in any endurance sport, whose performances have increased as he reaches past 40. If you know of one, please enlighten me!”

            Dave Scott was 40 when he came 2nd at the Ironman in Kona in 1994, after a 5 year hiatus from the sport. His time of 8:24:32 was his 2nd fastest time for that event and an hour faster than his first attempt in 1980 when he was 26. Two years later, at 42, he came 5th in 8:28:31, only 4 minutes slower.

          • “Dave Scott was 40 when he came 2nd at the Ironman in Kona in 1994, after a 5 year hiatus from the sport. His time of 8:24:32 was his 2nd fastest time for that event and an hour faster than his first attempt in 1980 when he was 26. Two years later, at 42, he came 5th in 8:28:31, only 4 minutes slower.”

            You very conveniently forget to mention that he had won the event 6 times before his 1994 performance, so his performances have not increased like that of Horner, at best it has stagnated. His times are also completely irrelevent, it is normal to see a progression of this sort because of better equipment/training, particularly in a sport that has seen a rapid growth in those years. So the only interesting data is his rank, so you can compare against other athletes in the same field, and in 1980… he won the race! Please try again.

          • Interesting, cause riding clean against now-clean is one of the same arguments that was used to justify Chris Froome coming out of nowhere to dominate grand tours.

            At least Horner has won a few stages of big events along the way.

  3. “there is no statistic that I am aware of that suggests that a cyclist / other athlete who wins a major event over the age of 40 (barely in Horner’s case) is likely to be doping”

    Certainly agree with that. I think the bemusement comes from those of us who have been following CH for a decade-ish. This sort of result (GT) really stands out, regardless of his age.

    Chapeau, if clean. Guy is a character and, even without the Vuelta victory, he’s one heck of a cyclist.

  4. Horner was the most consistent and strong throughout.

    Nibali as the race progressed seemed to lose form and looked tired. The final stage was him just giving it everything for one last time.

    Valverde was consistent in saving energy and avoiding riding over his limit.

    Purito was done by the TDF and although he tried again to make the difference in the third week it did not work out.

    If Horner was not 42, was not friends with LA and had a normal season it would be logical result…

  5. Thoroughly enjoyable Vuelta as I thought and expected it to be. Am feeling lost already. Congratulations to Chris Horner with some of the feelings above I do hope that this has been a genuine performance we have seen. I do echo that his competition has certainly not been at their freshest. Overall I thought the route was fantastic and the time gaps right to the conclusion were so small as to keep things exciting. Well done Vuelta organizers and well done Inrng and Diaz which has been very enjoyable, thankyou.

  6. I think the previous posters have covered the factors of age and slim results. However his association with Armstrong and Bruynel and the era he comes from just doesn’t sit right with me. In addition his lack of an outright denial of using PED’s and his ‘Armstrong esque’ speech to the ‘doubters’ from the other stage really made me feel uncomfortable.
    I think if you take all these factors in its very worrying and I think it will always overshadow his career unfortunately

  7. Thanks Inrng for another 3 weeks of brilliant GT coverage interspersed with related information nuggets as only you deliver!

    The thing that gets me about Horner is not so much concentrating on his form this tour (this year) but the thought that he cannot have raced clean his whole career. The Rider15 element, the teams he has ridden for, and the duration of his career I just can’t see the guy having been clean for that long. His lack of a contract for next year (until now) further indicates that he perhaps has some baggage. Is it any wonder the last person to give him a contract was Bruyneel (since 2008).

    • Why does it matter for this year’s race if Horner doped 10 or 15 years ago? How long is the statue of limitations for doping? The UCI will reinstate a rider after 2 years for flunking a drug test.

      • Just like we didn’t care about O’Grady, Zabel et al. when they finally kind of confessed? Or about Zabriskie, Levi, Matt White, Hincapie etc. People slight Vino and Valverde for showing no remorse over their doping. You can’t pick and choose. In the context of the last two years if someone has used drugs in the past and is still riding, and still lying about it then I think that is unacceptable. On the basis of probability Horner is rider 15. On the basis of probability in the context of his career, the teams he has ridden with and the managers he has worked under, it is a logical conclusion to think he is no better than any of the guys listed above.

        • What facts do you have to support your implied allegations? You do understand that statistics is not a deterministic field, right? Further, it would seem that you lack actual facts in determining the probability of someone being Rider #15.

          As for your logic, it’s flawed as it’s based on zero objectivity and evidence.

        • Yeah. How is it known Horner is Rider 15? What’s up with that, anyway? If he is 15, why hasn’t the USADA gone after him? Levi’s testimony, under oath, isn’t sufficient? And, did Horner get called in to the grand jury, like the others, or not? Did Horner appear before the USADA?

  8. Forgot to mention, Tony Martins breakaway was my highlight, wish someone would bring out a DVD of that stage, I would sit down at Christmas and play out the whole thing.

    • Tony Martin’s breakaway was my highlight of the year. I will remember his performance long after I’ve forgotten those of most stage winners.

      Such as whoever won that day. I’ve forgotten again and I know I just read the name in INRNG’s article.

  9. Considering the different styles of climbing, incl. choice of cassette and gears while climbing, as well as how fresh the rider reaches the pivotal gradients, I would say that Horner climbed the best overall, and that is how the Vuelta was won!

    Whether I am right or wrong he definitely made the Vuelta for me!

  10. The chances of a rider over 41 years of age winning the Tour de France is 0.0001%.*
    Maybe the TdF is more competitive and so the oldest three have only been 36, 34 and 34.
    And a slightly tired Vuelta line-up, weaker line up than before and a well-rested Chris Horner may have accounted for the result. Also, rare outlier results can happen once in a 100 or a thousand years….

    …. Or maybe the team got better in using masking agents after Frank Schleck.
    (*the ages of TdF winners online, put into a bit of stats (normal distribution curve), gives this probability of winning at over 41 yrs).

      • Or maybe there is no evidence that a normal distribution is the appropriate model for GT winners’ ages.

        “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

        • Tom- I agree that stats are only useful until they’re totally misleading.
          But the normal distribution/ bell shaped curve is entirely present and appropriate for analysing GT riders ages, because the average age is 28 years, the mode (most common) is 28 and the median (the middle one when ranked) is 28.
          That just means there is no skew towards younger or older- 28 is the average winner’s age and it falls away in frequency either side of that age so a 18 yr old and a 38 yr old will barely ever win.
          …And a near 42 year old winning? 0.0001%

      • Professional sport is pretty hard-edged, isn’t it? People tend to get shuffled out when they’re not peforming any more. If anything, I suspect there’s a tendency to keep people on longer than is justified by their sporting performances because their name recognition has some value for the teams and sponsors.

        • Agreed. There has been a lot of comments to the effect that cyclists are retired too early because clearly there are loads of really good old cyclists (Jens Voigt, Chris Horner etc). What this fails to take into account that the cyclists who remain in the sport to that age have been ruthlessly selected to be the ones who can continue to compete to an older than typical age. They are not a representative sample of 40+ athletes.

          I am sure you are correct that, if anything, the very biggest names continue beyond their sporting merits due to a combination of nostalgia and marketability.

    • Karl M

      That is an interesting piece of statistical analysis but, as I am sure you realise, it needs a some caveats. Firstly while a bell curve can be inferred from the 100 data points you have for Tour winners, this isn’t a huge database and certainly not enough to be able to calculate a probability to the 4 decimal place. If I were to calculate such curve.

      Secondly, common sense tells us that it is not a perfect bell curve, particulary at the extremes. While it is unlikely that a 42 year old would win, it is not inconceivable, whereas it is completely inconceivable that a 14 year old could.

      None of which is to say that a 42 year old grand tour winner is not an unlikely thing, simply that we need to be careful in imfering too much certainty from the data available.

  11. Having watched Horner’s incredible feats this past three weeks, I’m not sure Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez are unlikely to get any quicker. Sorry, entirely non-evidence based snark. I feel better rejuvenated now.

  12. Compare (1) the years of power data from 2010 and 2011 races that Horner has published on the SRM website, (2) the power data he has published from stages 4 and 10 of the Vuelta, and (3) the theoretical power estimates made by some observers for his Vuelta stages.

    (1) shows that during the past few years, when he was 37+, he regularly produced high sustained power in races and training, close to measured 400 watts for various 20 minute periods with shorter periods up to 800+. (2) shows that he produced around measured 390 watts for 20 minute period mountaintop finishes in the first two weeks of the Vuelta. (3) claims that he sustained guesstimated 437 watts up the final climb of stage, I forget, was it 19?

    So the observers’ estimates stand out as being much higher than his SRM data from past years and from the race. Why might that be?

    In addition to all the variables that the observers cannot account for – road surface, wind, exact rider weight – there is the variable that he was riding behind others (rivals, teammate) for much of those climbs. Being in the draft makes a significant difference in power required, as most of us know.

    Another thing to consider: in most of the mountaintop finishes, while Horner may have taken seconds from Nibali, he was often not the fastest GC contender up the climb (remember the stages where he finished with Valverde and Rodriguez, and the stage where Rodriguez left everyone behind). We focus on Horner because he’s the story, but if we think Horner’s power or VAM was overall inhuman, then we must think Valverde and Rodriguez equally inhuman. Yet most of the commenters on this blog seem to feel those riders were off their best form, tired out by the Tour, etc – not inhuman at all.

    Horner’s performance at the Vuelta doesn’t, by and of itself, look like a “smoking gun”. It is that performance combined with his age and lack of a prior Grand Tour win that draws the suspicion. But the powermeters show he’s been producing these performances for years, so he hasn’t miraculously gotten much stronger at 41, and we know he job was almost always to burn all his matches in the service of another, seldom in a position to win for himself.

    In the end, this was a Vuelta perfectly matched to Horner’s strengths – lots of climbing to mountaintop finishes, minimal individual time trialling, Cancellara as locomotive for the team TT, mostly favorable weather. If you watch his interview before the race, he was very confident. Nibali wasn’t on top form, and didn’t have enough opportunity to use his full set of weapons – descending, time trialling, acceleration, resistance to bad weather. It was a shootout for climbers, and Horner can climb very very well.

    And yes, he is surely in the top 0.01% of human beings in terms of his ability to sustain his performance as he ages. What of it? All the riders in the World Tour are at the vanishing end of the bell curve of physical ability. From fellow oldster Jens Voight to the young French riders who came of age at the Vuelta, they are all extraordinarily unusual physical specimens. Such is professional sport.

    • “And yes, he is surely in the top 0.01% of human beings in terms of his ability to sustain his performance as he ages. What of it? All the riders in the World Tour are at the vanishing end of the bell curve of physical ability.”

      Isn’t the point that Horner’s performance isn’t on the vanishing end of human physical ability, but the vanishing end of GT winners?

  13. Last and final observation…CH wasn’t the only surprise this season. This (2013) could be what clean racing looks like. Let that sink in a bit before tar and feathering me (and I did say “could be”).

    • In fact, Horner was pretty much the only surprise winner of GT and monument classics this season, maybe Ciolek and Dan Martin were not odds-on favourites, but theirs were very normal progression.

  14. A quote from José Azevedo, the RadioShack sport director , from VeloNews: “Comparing with the others who have raced all season, Chris is fresher, not only physically, but also mentally. He has the ambitions to race. Combining the freshness, and his natural level as a rider, that’s his ‘secret formula.’ There is nothing else to be suspicious about. I believe him.”

  15. Thanks for the SRM file.
    Looks relatively legit, 266 for 20 mins is almost pedestrian.
    425 for 16mins @ the end seems high for a dude at his weight, then again – he’s a pro…

    Go Horner. Hope it’s a clean win….

    • Interesting. Main questions would be (a) will he recover enough beforehand; and (b) will Team USA really have the firepower (or in the alternative will Team USA be able to call in requisite favours from other nations to help out? Trek to pressure other Team Trek signings for 2014 to pitch-in?). He’ll get buried if the answer to either of these questions is “no”.

  16. It’s such a shame that no matter how hard some of us try, the spectre of doping is part of the sport. You can’t get away from it. The only facts are that Horner did or didn’t dope and there either is or isn’t new undetectable PED’s or masking agents being used.

    This last week I’ve managed to watch not only the Vuelta but the two Canadian GP’s and stage 1 in the Tour of Britain. Being a sports nut, I’ve also watched bits and pieces of numerous other sports, a list to long mention but including NFL & MBL, both Rugby codes, football, boxing and some tennis. All sports that have had dopers caught in the past, yet only cycling has me doubting an individual so easily.

    My pessimistic side thinks that rather than watching cycling as I do other sports, over time pretty much all sports will have too many cases of cheating to be ignored.

    • While you probably need a hobby, there will always be new, undetectable ways to dope and they’re catching them faster than ever. So, watching requires some skepticism, but pro cyclists are probably cleaner than they were 10 years ago.

    • All those sports you mentioned: I would be astounded if any of them were cleaner than cycling. The best way not to have positive tests is not to test properly…

      • That’s the point. They all have participants that have tested positive and who’s to say they don’t have major doping problems. They probably do but because of decades of negativity in the media re cycling and the obvious moments where cycling has shot its self in he foot, we, the viewers, have been brainwashed into a place where all high class performances give many at least a flicker of doubt as to their legality.

        We can still jump on our bikes and enjoy riding but watching isn’t the same innocent pastime of my youth. Not saying it’s good or bad, just a fact.

        • I reckon many fans of cycling care because they are cyclists, and many of them race, too. They have skin in the game, as it were.

          The average American sports fan probably doesn’t play football or baseball on the weekends (flag football or softball aside). I know many die-hard American football fans, and they are very cynical about PEDs in the sport, but they still watch. I reckon in football, at least, it is enough of a team sport that it is easier to look beyond the positive tests, or the huge athletes who are also incredibly quick and resilient.

          • Agree with the ‘skin in the game’ but also would expect that if you spend a couple of hours a day for 3 weeks following a GT, you’d feel like you had skin in the game too. Also true re team sports but then I see pro road cycling as very much a team sport. The difference is most cycling fans accept doping occurs whereas for example, your average Man Utd fan wouldn’t accept there was a problem in the EPL. Years of rumours regarding Barcelona don’t make a dent in the mainstream media but a doping case in cycling and it’s a case of “well what do you expect”.

  17. what is missed a lot in the age debate is that most athletes burnout as they approach 40 due to their career stress – they use up what their body has while young so of course they slow down after that. while horner has had a long career, the fact that he hasn’t really been a big contender before makes it possible that he can still perform to a high level clean at his age. as he said himself, he has regularly been injured or other luck type issues putting him out of races (including while still in contention so who knows what wins he might otherwise have to back up his ability) and giving him rest that will naturally aid longevity. most top riders may hay while the sun shines and then burn out.

    maybe he has doped in the past, maybe is is now… we can’t know. in the absence of any evidence or even compelling suspicion i choose to believe he is clean because if we assume that any performance better than expected must be dirty then there is no point in any racing

  18. My anecdotal observations of elite masters racers in So Calif , some of them former pros, is that 10 yrs age difference makes a huge difference in performance, and even 5 yrs makes significant difference.

    Eg, guys who usually win in their 45+ or 55+ (age) categories, when they race the next age category younger, will often finish top-10 but rarely win.

    Maybe the 10 yr difference between a 55 & 45 yr old, is not physiologically the same as a 10 yr difference between a 41 and 31 yr old . As an aging racer myself, it’s Horner’s age that arouses the most suspicion in me.

    • With age the general observations are that your max heart rate and threshold begin to fall back. You can ride all day and well into the 50s ride at a hard pace, even slog away in an Ironman tri but sprinting or doing a 5-min hill rep is hard, it’s the sharp efforts that get blunt. But that’s in general and doesn’t explain individual cases.

  19. Though I’m loathe to break up the doping conversation, I recently installed an extension that contextualises numbers in pages, and it paints a picture of Martin’s “174.9km [≈ length of the Suez Canal] breakaway”.


  20. A general point, interesting to see so much Horner-related discussion, it’s obviously the talking point.

    I wanted to add that if we’re seeing a large crop of Spain’s thirty-something riders, we should remember Ruben Fernandez has just won the Tour de l’Avenir with a good ride. He won on the Col de la Madelaine with a strong solo move and then defended the jersey well, often by himself after his team mates had been dropped.

    • Yes, but apart from this ride (which came out of nowhere, at least for me), there doesn’t seem to be a lot of talent coming out of Spain right now. The Valverde generation may well leave a gap (which quite often happens in sports after very succesful generations).

  21. I think the “everyone else was tired” justification doesn’t hold a lot of water. Horner needed a record breaking time on one climb and a second fastest ever time on another to dislodge the competition. If the others were so tired he’d have won with a decent ride rather than a spectacular one. I can see him performing well on a few stages, I can see him winning a few tactically, but he just showed a head scratching amount of strength; and he showed it consistently in to the third week where you’d expect the longer recovery times associated with age to take its toll. I really hope he’s clean, I do want to believe but I struggle. The evidence may only be circumstantial but there is a lot of it.

    • I’d stop well short of claiming there is ANY evidence of cheating by Horner. But that doesn’t remove that uneasy feeling I have about the situation, especially if he really is #15 in the USADA report. The reputations of the teams he’s been associated with during his career are dodgy enough to make one wonder.

  22. well, whatever your view on Horner, Team Sky certainly weren’t on the juice!.
    They animated the race at times (EBH and Uran) and Kiri saved their race in the end… but Henao?

    • This is an interesting point. Uran seemed like a legitimate contender in Italy. I haven’t done any of the math, but it does seem like the performances from Sky riders are erratic in a very specific way.

      • it does seem like the performances from Sky riders are erratic in a very specific way

        Care to expand this a bit?

        My take on these performances is more generous–this is what it looks like when riders aren’t doping indiscriminately. Riding well in two grand tours is a huge ask. I’m not suggesting that Nibali (or others) are doping because they did have two good GTs in a season, but it would seem that not every rider is cut out for that (see Evans, Cadel).

        • I am only making an observation. I have an opinion that is based on what I do know, but I’m well aware that it’s just my opinion. I don’t pretend to know who’s clean, who’s not.
          Take Uran. Clearly looked like, without supporting Wiggins, he could have given the field and Nibali a run for their money. Since then, since it became fact that he’s leaving, isn’t he an also ran?
          Froome, who I’ve followed less, has been abnormally quiet, even if his goal is the World Champs. But he looks like he can just win at will.
          When you ask; “this is what it looks like when riders aren’t doping indiscriminately”, do you mean they’re not doping, or they’re doping with exact, specific goals?

          • When you ask; “this is what it looks like when riders aren’t doping indiscriminately”, do you mean they’re not doping, or they’re doping with exact, specific goals?

            The former. I’m not blind to the fact that doping still occurs, but I want to believe it isn’t as systematic as it once was. For example, if Nibali was doping to win the Vuelta, why didn’t he just ride away from Froome? The cynical answer is “Froome was doped to the gills,” I guess, but I want to believe Nibali was just beat.

            I suspect that there are many circumstances to Uran’s racing after the Giro, as you, and others, point out. As far as Froome goes, hasn’t it been pretty rare that the TdF winner has done much after July in recent years?

      • Uran didnt just seem like a legitimate contender in Italy. He actually finished 2nd.

        Tell us more about Sky riders performances being ‘erratic’ in a very specific way.

        The 4 biggest Colombians this season have been Henao, Uran, Quintana and Betancur. In this Vuelta Uran looks to me like he used to be a couple of years ago – inconsistent over the 3 weeks. Possibly he’s less motivated with the move to OPQS next season, maybe he’s holding something back for the Worlds. Henao has performed a little better than Beta, who was in the gruppetto almost from the start, but has been below par. He just looked fatigued. But nothing like as poor as Beta.

        All 3 went back to Colombia straight after the Giro for 2 months (longer in Beta’s case), returning to Europe in Aug. Strikes me their 3 respective teams next season have to work with them on what they need to do differently if they want success out of them in the latter part of the season.

        Nothing shifty about that.

  23. Could be wrong here but I’m going from memory … In the 2010 Tour with the stage finish to Morzine, Armstrong had crashed numerous times (riding into to the back of a Euskaltel rider I think) trying to catch back up with the other main contenders. Horner was one of his domestiques helping relay back on. When Armstrong crashed the last time and gave up, Horner was allowed to ride up the final climb at his own pace and this is the bit I’m unsure of … I believe he was the fastest rider up the final climb.

    If right, I think this supports the idea that Horner could produce the power required but used it as a support rider rather than a leader.

    Overall though, great race and I loved watching the Horner-Nibali duel.

  24. It was a good race, with a result that I’m not happy about. Not at all.
    Anyway, Nibali put up a big fight on the Angliru, that’s for sure.

    And Graham Wattson once again! Yeez, I used to like this guy’s work? Ruined Evans’ Vuelta a few years ago, and ruined the TV show this year. ***** ***!

  25. While innocent until proven guilty I do not believe this win came w/o PEDs. No 41 year old can generate more wattage than Nibali et al — especially after being out for most of the year. Just refuse to believe it. And spare me the testing. Lance, Basso, Ulrich all beat those tests for years. And BTW, Horner missed his test this morning. Seems there was a hotel mix-up. It’s a very nice fairy tell, as was Landis and Tyler, until the whip came down.

    • I too would like to believe in Horner, but such a performance from someone who’s not a pure climber is disturbing. As as I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt though, let me play a bit of devil’s advocate.
      Perhaps Horner’s 5-year spell in the US has left him with more in is legs than other rider’s his age (99% of whom are retired). The US circuit is tough, but in no way measures up to the damage inflicted upon a rider engaged in a full season in Europe.
      Horner also had the misfortune of being seriously injured in March, forcing him off his bike for close to two months, obliterating his form, but letting him fully charge his batteries. I remember when Thomas Voeckler was off his bike the entire week before the 2012 TdF. He then proceeded to have one of his better Tours, winning two stages and the Mountains Classification (after using the first week to ride himself into form).
      Also, perhaps Horner really did time his peak perfectly. The extreme nature of the climbs during this year’s Vuelta made power to weight ratio THE deciding factor for GC contention. Horner is listed as being 5’11”, but he looks closer to 5’9″, and I’m being generous when I say he weighs just under 140lbs, allowing him to fight gravity with better energy conservation than most.
      So there it is. Perhaps the combination of a reduced euro career, rest, and diet where the perfect ingredients for a meal that was well worth the (very long) wait.

    • Apparently USADA admitted that they failed to notify the Spanish testing agency that Horner had updated his whereabouts information.

      Horner didn’t miss his test, the testers failed to read the instructions.

      But I’m guessing facts won’t change your opinion.

  26. As a comparison to Horner, Haile Gebrselassie the Ethopian distance runner, is now 40. On Sunday he finished 90 seconds behind Mo Farah & Kenenisa Bekele in a Half Marathon race in the UK, but he still set a world best for a 40+ runner.

    Conditions were not favourable, and Gebrselassie is probably not in the same condition as a few years ago, so his time of 1:01:41 is a great achievement, but someway off the very best world class times.

    The records for Masters (Veteran) runners show a consistent decline from 35 years old so I would expect a similar curve in cycling, although maybe the nature of cycling (less impact) means the decline in slower.

    So Horners performance is possible at his age, he probably wouldn’t beat a fit Chris Froome, but he can come close.

    • Despite what it’s says on the bbc site Haile finished in 1:00:41. He was with Farah and Bekele at 1 mile to go, but couldn’t live with their final kicks

  27. My two (Vuelta) cents:

    – Inner Ring yet again demonstrates why so many of us bother to read his (her?) posts and contribute to the subsequent discussions
    – all of the doping noise about Horner is so tedious. All that we have in the public domain is circumstantial evidence of doping (at best). Admittedly his teams, age and era don’t reflect well but we just don’t know. We just don’t know. All of the definitive statements being made on this topic are ridiculous. I’m prepared to believe in Horner’s win was clean and risk being proved wrong down the track.
    – the move to a red leaders jersey (introduced last year?) is a masterstroke. Gives the race its own theme and personality and it looks great.
    – the Angrilu continues to be a real highlight. i particularly enjoy how it is always shrouded in mist (seems impossible to ever get a proper glimpse of it adding to its mystique). The number of fans in the final kms was very impressive as well as how they sportingly cheered for the two foreigners who were distancing their countrymen in Horner and Nibali.

  28. Horner has always been an eccentric rider with an exuberance about racing bikes different from other riders who looked upon it just like a task of labor. I recall his carrying a patch-up kit in his water bottle cage at the TofC.last year because he was afraid the team’s support vehicle might not get to him–either logistically or intentionally. Politically, in his earlier teams, he was often left off the roster for the grand tours, and he would be left bemoaning his situation to Cyclingnews. I prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt, and chalk up his win to Horner’s mental state because he knew this Vuelta would be his last chance to prove to all the neighsayers, and to himself, that he was a true contender. So hats off to Chris!

  29. Also most of the serious GC competition weren’t there: Evans, Froome, Contador and Schlek were in Canada, Wiggins getting ready for the Tour of Britain.

  30. So, just want to check: you think Evans and Schleck would have been ‘serious’ competition at the Vuelta? You think Evans would have somehow found the energy and form he so lacked at the Tour to be competitive, and that Schleck would have suddenly become a serious GC contender again? As opposed to Purito who’s finished on the podium of his last 3 GTs? Or Valverde who finished 2nd at last year’s Vuelta?

    Bit confused by that.

  31. I sincerely hope that all of those who so frantically defended Wiggins and Froome for their emergence into full-fledged grand tour dominators aren’t the same ones casting aspersions on Chris Horner for his winning the Vuelta by a whisker.

    Chris Horner has better road racing/climbing credentials than both of the other two guys combined.

    But, then, I guess cheating is okay, as long as it’s your guy that’s winning.

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