Record-setting pro cyclist Chris Horner to lead Amador County charity ride

Professional cyclist Chris Horner, who made history last month when he became the oldest winner of a three-week grand tour race, will ride for charity Saturday in Ione along with scores of recreational cyclists.

The event is $55, is open to the public and features ride options of 10, 30 and 50 miles. Registration can be completed online at www.clarkscornerione.com or immediately before the ride, which starts at 9 a.m. Proceeds benefit three charities – the Food Bank of Amador County, World Bicycle Relief, which builds and ships bicycles to underprivelged areas around the world; and the Sacramento-based Chevo Foundation, which funds research to find a cure for Parkinson’s Disease.

Horner stunned cycling fans around the world when he won the Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain) just days shy of his 42nd birthday, shattering the record for oldest rider to win one of the major three-week tests. The Vuelta, as the race is known to fans, is one of the three grand tour events on the racing calendar, the most famous being the Tour de France. The other is the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy). The previous record was held by Fermin Lambot, who won the Tour de France in 1922 at age 36.

Horner, who in his heyday often trained in the Sacramento area and is well known to longtime local racers, captured the Spanish race in dramatic fashion, riding away from leader Vincenzo Nibali through thick fog on the steep slopes of the Angliru on the penultimate day. On his final race of 2013, the rained-soaked world championships, Horner crashed on slippery roads and broke his ribs. Nevertheless, he says he is eager and ready to participate in the charity ride Saturday.

Besides his cycling ability, the gregarious Horner is considered one of the good guys in the sport, approachable with fans and the media. This is the fourth annual charity ride, which was started by Kraig Clark, a Fair Oaks entrepreneur and philanthropist. Clark said he contacted Horner four years ago through the rider’s website and simply asked him to to be a celebrity participant. Horner promptly said yes. Clark described Horner as the consummate professional.

“I think I got really lucky. He’s awesome,” Clark said. “We have a dinner the night before the ride. He tells stories of his career, about strategy and his racing. He has 19 years worth of stories. The challenge is that it doesn’t go all night. He’ll sign anything for anybody. He gets pictures with anybody who wants to. The same thing on the day of the ride.”

As of Thursday, there were still three tickets available for the charity dinner at 6 p.m. today, which is $65.

In a telephone interview from his home in Bend, Ore., Horner said he is sore and banged up from the crash but will be able to ride Saturday.

“It’s always nice to get down to Sacramento,” he said.

Horner often stayed with friend and fellow pro Trent Klasna at Klasna’s home in Cool, near Auburn. For a typical training day, Horner would ride from Cool to downtown Sacramento, much of it along the American River bike trail, do the fast-paced “River Ride” full of local amateur racers, then pedal back to Cool for a total of 140 miles.

Asked about his record-breaking performance in Spain, Horner said he entered the race well-rested and by Stage 3 had an inkling he could contend for the win. His legs felt good and he seemed unbeatable when the roads were at their steepest. The closely contested battle between Horner and Nibali thrilled fans the entire three weeks and made Horner a folk hero in Spain.

When he crossed the finish line atop the Angliru on Stage 20, Horner collapsed to the ground and needed two team assistants to get him to his feet.

“I was in an ugly place,” he said with a laugh. “I had gone to a dark, twisted place at the finish. I was completely spent.”

Come Saturday in Ione, the riding pace will be much more civilized, with hundreds of cyclists vying mostly to have their pictures taken with the 42-year-old star attraction.

“He’s a natural at it and he’s so generous with his time,” Clark said. “Everybody who comes up to him, it’s like he knows them already.”