Swami’s Talks with Chris Horner

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San Diego native Chris Horner started riding his bike at age 13, primarily for transportation to and from the beach.  He quickly took to racing and found himself a newly minted Cat 1 rider at the ripe old age of 19!

Memories of Swami’s

As a local, Chris has ridden with Swami’s countless times and considers the club’s Wednesday ride to be the most challenging in the nation.  He remembers these to be absolute slugfests that brought out the best cyclists, triathletes and duathletes in the country (and, sometimes, in the world).

Even after his career as a pro began to take off, Chris maintained a house in Tierrasanta and would return to southern Cal for base training from January through March.  He and his wife would often drive to the Del Mar park-n-ride, then he’d ride with the Swami’s for a couple hours. Afterwards, he’d pedal back to Tierrasanta, typically logging 110 miles.  He remembers countless rides over Highland Valley Road and through the orchards of northeast San Diego County.

Horner’s Perspective on Training

One of the first things we wanted to know was how Chris handles his off-season training.  Since Chris now lives in Bend, Oregon he takes advantage of the winter weather and focuses on skate skiing.  However, like most things, he does it a bit differently: he skis without poles!  For Horner, this complements cycling by building leg, hip and core strength and facilitates his transition back to the bike in the spring.

As the weather warms up, Chris adds sessions on his dirt bikes.  While obviously frowned upon by team management due to its potential to cause serious injury, Horner claims that nothing beats its full-body workout.

On the bicycle, Chris’s years of experience has shaped his very straightforward training philosophy.  He does not believe in “slow days”, only occasional easy days.  He’d rather take a day off than ride slowly.

While he uses a power meter, he only relies on it to reveal his fitness trends. “I use a power meter to tell me how things are going overall, but I don’t obsess over the day-to-day numbers.  Over the years I’ve learned what type of consistent power output I need before I’m ready for a major stage race but, to get there, I rely on training hard and interpreting the sensations I’m feeling.  I know where I need to be, and what that feels like.”

Interestingly, despite being one of the best climbers in the peloton, he never does hill repeats.  “I’ve never turned around at the bottom of a climb and ridden back up. Why would I?  I just keep riding!”

Horner’s Style of Climbing

Chris emphasized that the steep sustained climbing featured in European races favors his strengths more than the shorter and more gradual climbs in the USA.  For example, in stage 19 of the 2013 Vuelta a España, Chris averaged 390 watts for 40 minutes on each of the last 5 climbs (pause and think about that for a minute!)  This type of extended performance was in his sweetspot, and he went on to become the first American to win the coveted Spanish Grand Tour.  In contrast the climbs in US racing — like those in the Tour of Redlands that demand 420-440 watts over a much shorter period – just don’t suit him as well.

One of Horner’s favorite climbs in the US is Mt. Palomar, which he’s ridden many times with Swami’s members.  For him, its “50 to 55 minute effort is ideal for training.”

However, Palomar isn’t perfect… it’s not steep enough.  “A road needs to average above 6% for the climbers to emerge, and average above 8% for climbers like me to start doing some damage.  You find plenty of roads like that in Europe, but not in the USA.”

According to Chris, the most memorable climb that he’s ever ridden is the Angliru in northern Spain.  Used in the historic 2013 Vuelta a España, it was the site of Horner’s epic runner-up finish in Stage 20, which helped to cement his overall victory.   Not surprisingly to those who watched that stage, Chris never wants to ride the Angliru again!

What the Future Holds

As of this writing, Chris is still battling a rare bacterial infection that has hampered his performance over the past year and a half.  Although his doctors have finally seemed to arrive at an effective treatment, Chris is still recovery and remains without a team for 2016.

Make no mistake: Horner still wants to compete.  He feels he still has a couple good years left as a racer.

However, if it’s finally time for his career as a pro rider to end, he will be fondly remembered as one America’s greatest cyclists of all time.

Chris Horner – Career Highlights

  • 2nd overall— 2014 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah
  • 1st overall — 2013 Vuelta a España
  • 1st place — 2013 Vuelta a España, Stage 3 & Stage 10
  • 2nd overall— 2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah
  • 1st place — 2013 Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, Stage 5
  • 8th overall — 2012 Amgen Tour of California
  • 2nd overall — 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico
  • 1st overall — 2011 Amgen Tour of California
  • 1st place — 2011 Amgen Tour of California, Stage 4
  • 2nd overall — 2011 Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country)
  • 10th overall — 2010 Tour de France
  • 1st overall — 2010 Vuelta al Pais Vasco
  • 1st place — 2010 Vuelta al Pais Vasco, Stage 6
  • 2nd overall— 2010 Giro di Sardegna
  • 2nd overall— 2009 Tour de l’Ain
  • 1st place— 2009 Tour de l’Ain, Points Classification
  • 15th overall — 2007 Tour de France
  • 1st place— 2006 Tour de Romandie, Stage 2
  • 1st place— 2005 Tour de Suisse, Stage 6
  • 1st overall — 2003 Tour de Georgia
  • 1st overall — 2000-04 Redlands Bicycle Classic
  • 3-time USA Cycling National Racing Calendar Champion (2002-04)
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Founded in 1989, Swami’s Cycling Club is one of the premier and most recognized clubs in southern California. We are composed of more than 300 male and female cyclists in the San Diego region who participate in the entire spectrum of cycling activities from the adrenalin-pumping action of racing to mountain bike and fitness rides.