"I always enjoy coming back here," says Horner, who returned early from Europe after crashing out of last month's Tour de France. "There's just something different about Bend. It's just really easy going."
Horner is showing his appreciation for his hometown by hosting the first-annual Cascade Gran Fondo, an 85-mile bicycle tour around Mt. Bachelor, on August 20. For the uninitiated, Horner explains that gran fondo is a fancy Italian name for a supported group ride.
"In the old days we used to call it a century," he laughs, referring to the term for a hundred-mile ride.
After participating in various gran fondos, including one in Southern California organized by cycling legend Roy Knickman on behalf of his cancer-stricken son, Horner found he loved the opportunity to ride his bicycle with good friends for a good cause. Gran fondos typically raise money for charity while offering participants the luxury of a European-style ride that provides limitless gourmet food in a festival atmosphere. And while it's not technically a race, it is a timed event, and riders can push themselves against the clock.
"We didn't have anything like it here in Bend, and we wanted to do something in the community we live in," explains Horner. "It's home for me, and we wanted to do something cycling related because that's what I do."
The route is one of Horner's favorite local training rides on quiet roads that offer stunning views of alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks, and is a challenging loop with about 5,000 feet of climbing that's used for the Cascade Cycling Classic. Four rest stops along the way will offer riders a chance to refuel, Deschutes Brewery is providing a post-ride meal at the finish line, and all participants will receive a swag bag.
Three charities will benefit from the Cascade Gran Fondo including Livestrong, World Bicycle Relief and the local Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation. People who aren't interested in riding can still support someone who is by making a donation on their behalf. Horner loves the chance to give back, but the real appeal of a gran fondo for him is the experience.
"It's always great to back up the charities, but really you come to the Gran Fondo to ride your bike, have a good time, eat good food and get some spectacular scenery in," says Horner.
The Cascade Gran Fondo includes other events in conjunction with the ride. On Thursday, August 18, the Tower Theatre hosts "An Evening with Chris Horner: Stories from the Road," where Horner will share his experiences as one of professional cycling's most enduring and determined characters, and take questions from the audience. A swanky VIP dinner follows on Friday, August 19, for sponsors, supporters and top fundraisers. And an all-day expo on Saturday, August 20, will take place near the starting line of the Gran Fondo.
"There's a lot of time and a lot of effort put into it," says Horner. "Hopefully we'll get some good numbers, and keep it growing. We'd like to bring a lot of people from outside town to experience Bend. Bend's a great place to ride your bike."
When I spoke with Horner, he was upbeat, having ridden that day, one of the first times he's been able to do so since crashing hard in Stage 7 of this year's Tour.
"I came back from the Tour wrecked and destroyed," says Horner. "And since then, Rebound (Physical Therapy) has gotten me back in shape, and I was on the bike today."
The violent crash threw him from a narrow French road into a ditch, where he laid motionless for a minute, obviously severely injured. Nonetheless, with the help of his team managers, he remounted and finished the stage. However, at the finish line, it was evident he'd suffered a concussion. He was disoriented and unaware that he had finished the stage, and was taken to the hospital where it was announced that he'd be unable to continue the race.
"I don't remember any of the crash," says Horner. "I only know what I watched on TV, too, and it was definitely scary."
Although the concussion was the most flagrant of the injuries he suffered, it was less painful and debilitating than others that have continued to become apparent.
"I ended up with deep bone bruising, fluid in the ankle and fluid in the tendon," he says. "That's what was keeping me off the bike. I also had a fractured rib and a broken nose."
Since we spoke, Horner was suddenly hospitalized a few days ago for a blood clot in his lung, also attributed to the crash, and is being treated with medication to thin his blood. His season, which started off so promisingly, appears to be over.
Asked if he's planning another campaign for the Tour de France in 2012, he responds emphatically and without hesitation.
"Absolutely," Horner says. "The crash doesn't put any fear in me to avoid [racing]. It comes as part of the job. Do crashes put some kind of hesitation in racing? Absolutely. But does it keep me off the bike? No."