In the week that disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong handed back his bronze medal from the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, as reported by BBC Sport, Chris Horner's win in the 2013 Vuelta a Espana comes as a timely boost for the embattled sport of cycling in the US.
Horner, 41, became the oldest-ever winner of a Grand Tour per the Associated Press via The Guardian, beating the record of Firmin Lambot in winning the 1922 Tour de France at the age of 36. It is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable success stories in modern cycling history.
Not only did Horner become the oldest winner of both the overall competition and an individual stage at a Grand Tour, but he also became the first American winner of one of cycling's three major races since Greg LeMond's victory in the 1990 Tour de France, per Reuters' Alasdair Fotheringham.
As reported by Ian Chadband in the Telegraph, there is an understandable air of cynicism surrounding Horner's achievements—in the context of Armstrong's high-profile scandal—given his age and recent knee troubles.
For the sake of cycling, though, the hope must be that the American's success is genuinely one of the great achievements in the sport's recent history.
Horner's glory and the way it has been achieved, particularly in setting a new VAM ascent speed record on Stage 19, per Gregor Brown of VeloNews, is a simply phenomenal achievement. It is the type of performance that could genuinely inspire a new generation of US cyclists.
CEO and president of USA Cycling Steve Johnson spoke to VeloNews' Matthew Beaudin in July of the need for post-Armstrong heroes in American cycling:
It’s clear to me that heroes and role models are absolutely critical to the continued development and interest in the sport of cycling.
So, for us as an organization, 100 percent of our effort outside of supporting recreational racing goes into the support of developing and supporting this next generation of heroes and role models, and making sure every talented, potentially qualified American cyclist gets a chance at a top-level professional opportunity.
As the article states, the number of licensed American cyclists continues to rise each year. The federation, though, has a major issue securing funding after the controversies of recent years and needs the return of a star figure to help generate the income needed to further develop the sport in the US.
Armstrong and his peers have done much to harm the sport of cycling in the eyes of the public, but there can be no denying that the income his image generated greatly helped the sport as a whole—not only in the US.
Given his age, Horner will never be that figure. However, his successes are remarkable enough to garner wider interest. He can serve to inspire and, at the same time, can become a respected face of cycling for Americans to rally around.
Since the Armstrong scandal was exposed, cycling in the US has needed a star to come to the fore, and Horner has done just that in recent weeks.
With the news coming so soon after the latest chapter in Armstrong's fall from grace, the timing could not be better.