By Sophie Smith
Rider agent Baden Cooke is confident American veteran Chris Horner will secure a contract for the 2015 season despite being pulled from the Vuelta a Espana that he was set to enter as defending champion.
The Vuelta marked its first summit finish today and the race 167.7km from Benalmádena to Cumbres Verdes, which Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won, would have been ideal stomping ground for the WorldTour’s oldest competitor had he been allowed to start.
Horner was cut from the Lampre-Merida team roster days before the Grand Tour commenced due to low cortisol levels, which, whilst not in breach of International Cycling Union (UCI) protocol, were lower than the specified minimum set by the Movement For Credible Cycling (MPCC) to which Lampre-Merida is a member.
A strong performance at the Vuelta may have positively impacted on Horner’s contract situation though Cooke remains sure the 42-year-old won’t be forced into retirement at the end of the year.
“We weren’t really worried about getting a contract all year and Chris was asking me to actually hold off on talks because he was so confident of getting a result at the Vuelta,” Cooke told Cycling Weekly. “We’ve been holding off on going deep into talks for that reason.
“Chris is very happy where he is now at Lampre. All year they’ve been giving indications that they want to keep him on board. He doesn’t want to retire and he shouldn’t,” he continued.
“I think he would have been easily in the top five at the Vuelta this month if he had of been there. It’s pretty well documented what happened to him as part of the MPCC. They’ve got more rigorous controls than normal. If he had of been riding for another team he would be riding the Vuelta right now.
“That’s their choice. I think it’s strange - it should be all or no one - but anyway.”
The WorldTour transfer market is less volatile than last year when former Tour de France maillot vert winner Cooke retired, unable to secure a contract for the 2014 season. He made his name as a rider agent not long after though brokering an 11th hour deal for Horner. The 35-year-old Cooke hadn’t undergone a UCI-approved agent examination so represented Horner for free, which was also the case with Australian compatriot Matthew Lloyd (Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis). Cooke has since sat the test and opened a boutique agency he owns and operates out of Monaco.
“When I took him on I was still actually a rider! He came to me in the last week of December so technically I was in the last week of my career still,” Cooke said. ”It was a very difficult situation and I knew something was wrong straight away that he didn’t have a team.
“I was team-mates with him in 2000 and 2001 with Mercury in the States so I’ve known him very well for the best part of 15 years. I’d just seen him in the Vuelta [that Cooke started] so I was honoured to have such a big first client.”
Horner finished second overall at the Tour of Utah earlier this month. It followed a top 20 performance at the Tour de France in which he suffered from bronchitis that was treated with cortisone when a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) was gained.
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