US cyclist Chris Horner made cycling history on Sunday after becoming the oldest winner of a Grand Tour when he finished ahead in the overall classification of the three-week Vuelta a España.
“It is just more than being the oldest winner. I am also the first American to win a Vuelta – that’s something that I am happy about,” said the RadioShack Leopard rider who will turn 42 next month.
Horner was able to leave the sprinters to fight out the 21st and final stage of the tour, and secured a final race victory 37 seconds ahead of Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde came in third in the overall classification while Australia’s Michael Matthews won the final stage.
Earlier, Horner said that it was his 12-year-old son who convinced him that to continue competing after the cyclist injured his hip in accident. “I want you to continue to ride so that I can go to school and tell my friends that my Dad is a professional cyclist,” Horner said, recalling his son’s words.
“I think that is what gave me the extra force to accomplish something I set out to do.”
And Horner did warn us. When newspapers such as this one were making a fuss about his Vuelta Stage 3 win back in August, the RadioShack Leopard team rider who will be 42 next month shrugged off the tag of becoming the oldest leader of a Grand Tour in living memory, saying at the time: “I'm in good shape and I like the route. My goal is to be a challenger. I won the Vuelta al País Vasco and I think I'm capable of doing something big."
Then after that first week in Galicia, the man from Oregon drifted slightly off the pace and this Vuelta seemed like it was Astana rider Nibali’s for the taking. But the 2010 champion in Spain saw his overall lead cut to just three seconds last Thursday in one of a string of mountain stages before Horner got his nose in front amid the peaks of Asturias on Friday. The stage was set for a showdown as Saturday’s Stage 20 ended with a climb up the legendary ramps of Angliru. Young French cyclist Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) outlasted the other frontrunners for the stage win but close behind Nibali and Horner went head to head. The 28-year-old Italian made repeated attempts to shake off the RadioShack man before the American finally rode past his rival to open up the 37-second lead that would secure the first major title of his career, Horner having previously won the Basque Country Vuelta in 2010.