American Chris Horner became the oldest winner of a grand tour Sunday after cruising into Madrid as the overall leader of the Tour of Spain. The 41-year-old finished 37 seconds ahead of this year's Tour of Italy winner, Vincenzo Nibali, with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde taking third.
“I have faced younger and great riders like Nibali, Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez," Horner told VeloNews. “They have had a great tour, so for me it is a legendary moment that may not be repeated."
"I know I am also the first North American to win the Tour of Spain and this makes me very proud of my work—and above all, that of my teammates.”
Horner's win was all but assured after he fended off attacks and then distanced Nibali in the final kilometers of Saturday's stage up the Alto de L’Angliru, one of cycling's hardest climbs. Throughout the race, Horner proved himself to be the best climber in the field. His ascent of the L’Angliru was the second fastest of all time, including the times of known dopers.
While many were celebrating his victory, a vocal contingent of fans expressed criticism on Twitter, speculating that Horner's victory was tainted by doping. La Gazzetta dello Sport ran with the headline, “Esagerato! Un Horner mai visto," which translates to “Exaggerated! A Horner like never before.” The paper reported—and others quickly verified—that Horner's ascent of the 5.9-kilometer Peña Cabarga climb was one of the fastest on record.
Though Horner and his supporters responded by pointing out that a short climb naturally allows for a higher climbing speed, an analysis done by anti-doping expert Michael Puchowicz also raised doubts about the American's (and most of the race's leaders') performance. Unrelated to Horner's racing, much of the suspicion seemed to originate from an interview he gave denying witnessing any doping on Lance Armstrong's teams. Horner was also racing for a contract at this year's Tour of Spain and had never before finished in the top three of a grand tour, despite showing flashes of brilliance at other races.
But some did come to Horner's defense, including Sir Dave Brailsford of Team Sky, who said that Horner's performance must be taken in context and with the understanding that power estimations can be flawed. "It’s hard to estimate power numbers based on guessing the factors,” Brailsford said. “Chris is strong, but the others are fatigued from a long season. His performance should be judged in the context of the race.”
Compared to other members of the peloton, Horner has been incredibly transparent—posting power data from training and racing. This year's route also favored the American, with plenty of climbing and few time-trial miles.
Update: Team RadioShack announced that Horner missed a post-race drug test after he switched hotels to stay with his wife. Team officials insist that Horner shared his plans with anti-doping officials and released an email he sent notifying the authorities of his location.
“The team believes the communication between the Spanish Anti-Doping Agency and the media is a violation of the privacy of Chris Horner, especially since it comes down to a clear mistake by the tester,” the team announced. “The team asks the media to report correctly on this matter, and will seek compensation for this matter with the responsible anti-doping agencies.”