Friday, June 26, 2009
Astana's Chris Horner explains why he was left off Tour de France roster
by Chris Horner
Tuesday was when it all started to go wrong for me.
I woke up in Aspen, Colo., to clear skies and beautiful temperatures. It was going to be a great day to ride six hours with Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer, my Astana teammates, as we continued training for the Tour de France. There was only one problem; I still hadn't gotten my ticket to France, which was the real sign of a securing spot on the Tour team.
The tickets were supposed to be there the Friday before. When they didn't show then, I still didn't worry because I was told the team would have them to me on Monday. Then Monday came and went, and there were still no tickets. Now both my girlfriend, Megan, and I were starting to worry and wonder what was going on.
Instead of getting ready to ride like I normally would have, it was becoming clear that things were not right, and that preparing my suitcase for the drive home should be first on my list of things to do Tuesday morning. When bad news comes, a fast exit is generally in order, since hanging around and watching others prepare for the race I wouldn't be riding only adds insult to injury.
About halfway through folding my clothes and reorganizing my suitcase, I got the call -- from Johan Bruyneel, our team manager at Astana -- that I had been waiting for. As I had feared, his message was that I wasn't going to the Tour this year. Many reasons were given, but all I really heard was that there would be no Tour de France for me.
Politics seemed to once again be what was holding me back from doing what I love, racing at the top of my sport. Johan gave me many reasons why he couldn't take me, and all of them made sense to me from a political standpoint, but absolutely no sense from a straight up who deserves to go standpoint.
So I asked if he would be willing to release me from the team if I could find another squad to pick me up for the Tour. I thought he would say no but I had to try. After I asked many times, he finally said he wouldn't release me, which meant that I really would miss the Tour this year.
Knowing there was no reason to get upset with Johan, I hung up the phone after thanking him for what I knew was a hard call to make, and for the fighting I knew he had done on my behalf with sponsors and riders on the team to get me on.
Like everything you do in life, politics exist even in cycling. And, like in every other aspect of life, they limit the power people have to make decisions. As a result, Johan's hands were tied.
It was always going to be a difficult decision, with so many interests weighing in on the nine precious roster positions.
One spot would go to a Kazakh, for the sponsors. Dmitriy Muravyev got it.
Four would go to our top GC riders -- Alberto Contador, Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Andreas Kloden -- all of whom have finished on the podium at the Tour.
Two went to Haimar Zubeldia and Yaroslav Popovych, who were selected early as support riders.
The eighth spot went to Gregory Rast, a big guy who could help tackle the flats.
That left one final spot -- the spot I had believed to be mine.
But instead, Alberto, whom the team was being built around, wanted to take one of his "boys" with him as a support rider. So Sergio Paulinho was in and I was suddenly the odd man out.
After the call I did what I always do when things are going badly; I rode my bike.
The next day, we got everything loaded up, and I thanked Lance and Levi for their efforts to get me on the team, since they both did more than their fair share of lobbying on my behalf. I thanked Lance once again for putting me up in a great place in Aspen to train with him and Levi, not to mention the great racing in Nevada City, Calif., last Sunday.
It was time to get on the road, headed for home. There was nothing more I could do in Aspen, and I had three kids at home, missing their daddy.
Before I go I would like to thank Johan again for his efforts. Don't be too hard on him -- he has a difficult job and was stuck in an impossible position. Everybody has to make hard decisions sometimes, and in that situation it's impossible to make everyone happy. This time I'm sure he's not the one at fault, and I appreciate all he has done for me in the two years that I have been with the team.
I love this team and am happy to finish out the season with it.
Now it is time to forget about the disappointment of missing the Tour and focus on what comes next on the schedule, whatever that may be. It's been a season of setbacks and comebacks, and this is just one more bump on the road, which hopefully foreshadows an even greater comeback.
Thanks for reading. Until the next race...