Horner to Lampre-Merida

Fotoreporter Sirotti

So the winters most absurd transfer-saga comes to a predictable conclusion. Vuelta-winner Chris Horner signs a one year deal with Lampre-Merida just as rumored.

The deal which is obviously last minute appears to specify Horner's race calendar quite specifically. Horner will do the Giro and Vuelta with what sounds as a clear captain role in Spain while he will have to share leadership or take a backseat to Niemec and Cunego, whose race programs have already been set, in the Giro.

Financially Horner's agent Baden Cooke describes the deal as "top-heavy with bonuses" in an interview with Ride. That's pretty obviously a way of saying that Lampre are hedging their bets. If the 42 year-old doesn't deliver results he will probably be making minimum salary more or less (take "minimum" with a grain of salt here) and will only make the big bucks that he has been holding out for if he can repeat his 2013 success. Not quite the job security he would have hoped for when he turned down the offer from his previous Trek (Radioshack) team in the fall probably but with the season already underway he didn't have to many options at this point.

For Lampre this looks a good deal to secure them relevance in all the three Grand Tours but reputation-wise it might not do them many favors. With the never-dying shadow of the Mantua doping trial still hanging over Giuseppe Saronni and much of the old team management the addition of the, justly or unjustly, controversial Horner doesn't do much to give the team the image of willingness to move with the times into "new cycling". That may just be a case of less hypocrisy and less PR than with other teams but it does expose them to the reality that they will be looked at with a lot more open skepticism. In some ways the inclusion of Horner might of course get in the way of some of the younger riders. Cunego has clearly used up his chances but riders like Przemyslaw Niemec and Diego Ulissi stood to take leadership roles when Scarponi headed off to the kazakh steppes, they may now see themselves relegated to supporting roles once again depending on how Lampre will position Horner in the team. Lampre's DS Brent Copeland talks of Horner having a "mentoring" role but lets just take that for the PR-schtick that it is. Horner is brought in as a pure results-mercenary, that's the reality of it.

From a  sporting standpoint it's a great thing that we'll get to see one of the biggest profiles of 2013 on a WT team doing the biggest races. The story of Horner pushing the envelope of what we have previously thought we knew about age and racing performance is an intriguing story and whichever way you look at it an exclusion of a recent GT winner just didn't feel right. This way the american gets a fair chance to prove his critics wrong and the peloton is definitively one profile richer. Let's just hope he gets to do a lot of interviews in spanish.

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