So, Chris Horner has reportedly been advised to retire by his agent Baden Cooke. It’s good advice for the athlete and it’s bad news for pro cycling.
Why? Let’s clear the road first. Let’s dismiss two areas:
1. Horner’s ongoing skeptics and the corresponding long-discussed drug rumors. True or not, none of that matters now.
2. Horner’s membership in the fraternity of prematurely bald pro cyclists. An uncanny number of former and current riders are bald or nearly bald. Maybe it corresponds in some way to the above drug concerns and maybe it doesn’t. But that topic, too, is for another discussion.
The reasons for Horner, age 44, to retire:
1. Not enough pro athletes understand when it’s time to retire. I don’t have a competitive gene, so maybe I would want to remain in the game as long I could, too, if that’s what mattered to me.
A few decades ago, Willie Mays continued his career when it was difficult for him to judge a fly ball. Years ago, Sugar Ray Leonard continued to fight with a detached retina. It’s sad stuff to watch.
Horner should retire now because, as he’s said for years, he doesn’t take the same risks (particularly descending) as he once did. That riding characteristic can only lead to hesitancy and an increased chance of further crashes.
Speaking of crashes, Horner may have had more injuries than any cyclist in history, or so it seems. A few seasons ago, he crashed out of five stage races in one season. If Horner continues to compete and has another serious injury, just when will his “luck” run out? Or will another tumble result in a father spending the rest of his middle-age years with serious limitations while trying to raise four children. Worse, maybe he won’t be around.
2. Horner’s considerable riding talents could be better served off the bike. He’s strategically savvy and his personality suits the education of young riders.
3. Bob Roll, Jens Voigt, Frankie Andreu and Christian Vande Velde, among many others, have transitioned from competition to commentary. Horner has more personality than a half-dozen other former riders now in broadcasting combined.
Hall of Fame golfer Johnny Miller brings an appealing freshness to golf commentary by offering his opinions based on superior knowledge of golf and by often taking on the conventions of the close-knit sport. I suspect Horner would do the same. If Peter Sagan makes a mistake, I think Horner would say so.
The reasons why Horner’s pending retirement is bad for cycling:
1. Cycling’s public persona is horrible. Horner is one of the exceptions: For journalists, he’s a quote “machine.” He’s Charles Barkley on pedals. He’s Bubba Watson in a kit and minus clubs. He’s Hunter Pence without high-rise stirrups and a twitch. For the public, Horner is the next door neighbor. (Hey, how about a burger and a beer?)
2. More than ever, cycling needs personalities. Horner rides with unequaled enthusiasm. He’s easy to like, and through the years he’s done more on the bike to showcase cycling’s graces and sportsmanship than most riders.
I don’t know Horner well. But I know he’s treated me fairly during his career. He returns phone calls and emails. He gives his opinion after good days and after bad days. He understands the media and knows cyclists are doing their jobs and reporters are doing their jobs. He knows the relationship can be mutually respectful.
So, what will Chris Horner do?
I hope he retires and spends more time with his family. I hope he remains in the sport as a broadcaster or director. I hope young riders learn from him to embrace their talents. The peloton needs another Chris Horner, just not this Chris Horner.