As a professional bike racer, Chris Horner possesses some lofty numbers. He's 44 years old, riding in his 22nd season and has been employed by 14 teams. It's those same statistics, however, that add up to an equation called retirement.

But like many pro athletes, Horner hasn't been able to stop. He hasn't won a race since the biggest victory of his career, the overall 2013 Tour of Spain title, which he claimed at age 41. Horner should have retired then, but as the overall winner of one of cycling's grand tours, he believed he could secure one more hefty contract.

He signed with Italian team Lampre-Merida for 2014, but Horner suffered a punctured lung and broken in a training crash in April and missed the Tour of Italy in late May.

He was then named to the team's Tour de France squad, but withdrew prior to the first stage because of unhealthy hormone levels.

Chris Horner: spiralling career

Horner's career has since downward spiraled. He raced last year for the now-defunct Airgas-Safeway squad and earlier this year signed with Lupus, a squad categorized as a Continental team, the lowest pro level. He's racing this week in the Tour of Utah, a weeklong event in which he finished fifth last year and twice has finished second.

But Horner is also competing in the most difficult stage race in the United Sates after only about two-dozen days of competition this season and with a season-best eighth place. He's repeatedly said in the past two seasons, he's still recovering from the bronchitis he contracted in 2014.

As per tradition, cycling events have pre-race press conferences and Horner was on the athlete's panel Sunday in Cedar City, Utah. Riders to his left and right were half his age, but Horner's inclusion was predictably good.

Professional cycling can use more personalities, and few riders have been as affable as Horner.

It's rare when the cyclist isn't smiling or talking. He's been a fan favorite and a go-to rider for the media for years.

But early in the press conference Horner was coy. He was asked about his fitness level and how long he planned to compete. Horner avoided the second question and responded to the first with a convoluted answer.

He said his legs are fine, but his lungs are still not right.

Horner was also not quite at his best, his good-natured demeanor subdued. Horner then explained while driving to the race from his home in Bend, Ore., to Utah, the brakes in his truck towing his team's RV overheated several times. It provided some less-than-relaxing long-haul driving.

The excitement further added to Horner's early midlife ordeal. Not too many years ago, he crashed out of five races in one season. He could have lost his life in his training crash in an Italian tunnel two years ago.

Chris Horner is also a husband and father of four, an endurance sport that now warrants a full-time commitment before it's too late.

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