FAIRFIELD — Back in the day, Chris Horner ruled Solano County from the seat of his bicycle.
Ten years after winning the last of his three Solano Bicycle Classic titles in the fourth and final year of the event, Horner is again royalty, this time in Spain.
Defying the odds and Father Time, the 41-year-old American captured the 21-stage Spanish Vuelta last Sunday, becoming the oldest winner of of the three grand tours – the Vuelta, Tour de France and Giro d’Italia – by five years, according to The Associated Press.
That distinction had previously gone to Fermin Lambot, who won the Tour de France in 1922 at 36.
Horner, who turns 42 next month, topped Italian Vincenzo Nibali by 37 seconds with Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who finished 1:36 behind, the only other rider within three minutes of him.
“I’ve been a professional for almost 20 years, so this represents a lifetime of hard work,” Horner told The AP. “A grand tour is always a goal for a cyclist to show how good of a rider you are. The memories will last forever.”
Memories of Horner’s dominance of the SBC still resonate with those involved with the event.
“I’ve a personal interest,” said Randy Carlson, who was the route and maps director for the SBC, of Horner’s recent success. “Of course, he won the Solano Bicycle Classic three times.”
Carlson then chuckled and added, “More importantly, he posed on my front porch with me. I have that picture and it is part of my self-identity and self-worth at this point. Chris was riding the North American circuit at that time. The competition was not quite as tough as Europe at that time.”
That Horner won in Spain, especially at his age, amazes Carlson.
“I am incredibly impressed by his performance,” Carlson said. “He’s the oldest, maybe by about five years, to win a major tour.”
Carlson added that Horner is affectionately called “Abueltio,” or “grandpa,” by Spanish cycling enthusiasts.
“They are enthralled (by) him,” Carlson said.
Horner is enjoying the ride.
“Many riders winning in their 20s and early 30s have small children, but mine are at the age where they can appreciate what dad is doing,” Horner told The AP. “When I get back, it will be quite the topic at home.”
Carlson’s SBC courses included tough rides in the hills around Lake Berryessa, including the brutal 7.7-mile Mix Canyon Hill Climb in 2003, which Horner won in 39 minutes, 11 seconds, extending his lead to an insurmountable 1 minute, 22 seconds after just two stages.
“Some walked up the final climb. Twenty professional racers walked up the Mix Canyon (climb),” Carlson said. “Chris is a climber. The Vuelta . . . had an extraordinary number of climbs and mountain finishes. Chris said it was tailor-made for him.”
Indeed, 13 of the Vuelta’s 21 stages involved mountains.
“I loved this course. When I first saw the design, I knew it was perfect for me and my style of racing,” Horner told The AP.
Horner, who began his career in 1995, essentially won the Vuelta in Saturday’s 20th stage when he increased his lead over Nibali from 3 to 37 seconds.
“(Saturday) you saw how much effort Nibali put in to try to win this race,” Horner told The AP. “It was no walk in the park for me. It was probably the hardest victory I’ve ever had in my career and possibly the hardest race I’ve had in my career.”
According to his website, www.chrishornerracing.com, Horner’s other victories include the Sea Otter Classic, Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour de Georgia, San Francisco Grand Prix, Le Tour de Langkawi and Lancaster Classic.
Carlson doesn’t know how much longer Horner will race professionally, but is confident there are no immediate retirement plans.
“You kind of play it year by year,” Carlson said. “If you have a disappointing year I have to think you have to hang it up, but he’s going to race next year. I don’t know how long it will last.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.