For Anthony Tan, to see Chris Horner dominate the Tour of California is no surprise. He just wishes the likely winner was still by Cadel Evans’ side.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

"I guarantee you, if you took me off Predictor [-Lotto]'s team and
you didn't replace a rider like me and you went into the Tour de France,
there would be times when Cadel was going to be by himself at crucial
moments in the race, and he was going to use valuable energy - or if he
had flatted or something like that. It would've cost him second in the
Tour de France. And that's the end result."


Chris Horner in December 2007, having recently signed for Astana after two years with Lotto

It
was irony at its cruellest. At the close of the 2007 season when I
spoke to Chris Horner about his move from Predictor-Lotto to Astana, it
was uncanny how he so accurately predicted the fortunes of his erstwhile
leader sans himself at the following year's Tour de France.

He
was never told why. But he surmised Lotto management didn't renew his
contract with the pay rise he asked for - and deserved - because of the
signing of Yaroslav Popovych, previously the loyal lieutenant of Lance
Armstrong and Alberto Contador at the Discovery Channel cycling team.
But right from the get-go Popovych was clearly nothing on Horner when it
came to protecting Evans and satiating his desire to win the Tour.

Horner lost many of his best years for a multitude of reasons.

At
Française des Jeux, his first time living in Europe, the then
25-year-old found himself isolated in a Paris apartment with almost zero
team support, enduring three frustrating and lonely years before
returning to race in the US. From 2000-2004 he got his mojo back,
winning virtually every single major race in America and completely
dominating his opposition - even when some of the best Europe-based
professionals came to race Stateside.

Clearly too good for the
locals and busting to race the Tour de France - a race he should've done
at least five years earlier, and done well in - he took a salary
one-third of what he could get in the States to race with the
Spain-based outfit, Saunier Duval-Prodir. So keen was he, Horner began
racing in Europe even before the 2004 season had drawn to a close, his
top-10 finish at the road world's in Verona, Italy, confirming where he
belonged.

With Evans' eighth place finish at the 2005 Tour it was
time to augment the firepower within Lotto, and the acquisition of
Horner was in part responsible for taking Cadel's upwards trajectory to
fourth overall in 2006. The following year, 2007, the Oregon native
again sacrificed himself at his own expense, leaving Evans to enjoy his
best-ever season, finishing second in the Dauphiné Libéré and Tour de
France, and fourth at the Vuelta a España.

"I just know we
couldn't agree on a price - that's what it boiled down to," Horner told
me when it was announced Lotto owner Marc Coucke and team manager Marc
Sergeant had made the irrational decision not to meet his increased
salary demand for the 2008 season. "I mean, I don't have any personal
regrets to the team, because it was a fantastic organisation to be a
part of. We just couldn't make it happen."

So it was a financial decision that precipitated your move to Astana? I asked, eager to know more.

"You
want to get paid what you're worth. It's the way the team treats you
when you get paid what you're worth, and the way you're just looked upon
in general. If you get paid 10 cents or something like that, you get
treated as a guy who makes 10 cents.

"So when you say, 'Is this
one a financial decision?' it's not a money decision, it's 'this is what
I'm worth [and] I've proved what I'm worth.' If you're worth a million
dollars and someone's paying you 10 cents, they're going to treat you
like a 10 cent rider - and that's what I mean by that.

"Certainly,
I'm getting older and you want to make the money that you can. But in
all honesty the difference in the money between Astana and Predictor
[-Lotto] was not enough for me to sign with Astana over Predictor on any
other reason other than just coming down to [the] principle that I
thought I was worth at least this much, and they weren't willing to pay
me that."

At the 2008 Tour de France, as Evans was repeatedly
attacked by the CSC-Saxo Bank armada till he had nothing much left to
give in the final time trial - a discipline he should have, to use some
Horner vernacular, 'whupped Sastre's ass in' and gone on to victory -
Horner must've felt both exasperated and pleased.

Exasperated
that he could've been there to help - particularly on the stages to
Prato Nevoso (Stage 14) and Alpe d'Huez (Stage 17) that left Evans
imperilled and besieged - and pleased that he stuck by his guns in his
contract negotiations.

To the bozos at Lotto it was tacit gesture; one of, "Told you so, didn't I?"

Armstrong
and Horner have never been the best of friends but last year he
swallowed his pride by joining RadioShack to ride in support of the
seven-time Tour champion, who was in search of an eighth. As things
turned out Armstrong was beaten by an amalgam of age, injuries and
uncharacteristic mistakes. but Horner, just one month older than Lance,
salvaged a tenth place in Paris for the team and was the best-placed
American.

Just like the 2010 Tour 'The Redneck' went into this
year's Tour of California ostensibly in a support role, this time for
Levi Leipheimer. But as he demonstrated on the fourth stage climb up
Sierra Road Wednesday, again it has been he who is strongest, taking a
seemingly unassailable lead. And he and his team did it all without
radio earpieces.

"You can argue that okay, 'you haven't won
anything this year' or something like that. But I hadn't won things this
year because 75 percent of the time when I'm racing, my sole job was to
be right next to Cadel and not go for the win," Horner said in our
December 2007 interview.

"And so that's fine, I'm happy with that
role – but I want to be completely appreciated and acknowledged that
that's the role I'm doing, and that's why I don't have two or three wins
during the year, or whatever it happens to be."

He also told me:
"When you've got a rider like Cadel that really appreciates what you do
for him and he's riding that good, the people around you when you come
back home, the fans, the ones that understand cycling, they can
appreciate [what I do] and that's enough for me. But I would like to win
one of those big races, too."

That time is nigh. If he wins California - as he appears destined to do - he'll likely go into this year's Grande Boucle
as one of RadioShack's leading men, the other being Andreas Klöden,
another evergreen 30-something who is enjoying a remarkable year. And do
not be surprised if he goes top five or better.

I love Horner's honesty. I love the way he rides. I love his braggadocio. I even love his redneck-ness!

But I'd love it more if he was still by Cadel's side, because BMC is still lacking someone like Horny on its team.