Cycling: Henderson on top of emotional rollercoaster

By Michael Brown

Greg Henderson. Photo / Getty Images
Greg Henderson. Photo / Getty Images

Life is full of ups and downs for riders in the professional peloton but for Dunedin cyclist Greg Henderson they don't get much more monumental than the past month.

Yesterday Henderson and Jack Bauer were named in the New Zealand Olympic team to contest the road race in London ahead of celebrated riders Hayden Roulston and Julian Dean.

That comes on the back of Henderson's selection to ride in his first Tour de France, which starts this weekend, and news his mother-in-law (he's married to former individual pursuit world champion Katie Mactier, of Australia) who took gravely ill recently has responded favourably to chemotherapy.

"The last three weeks I have been on this massive emotional rollercoaster and now just to top it off ... [it's been] three weeks in a row of good news,'' Henderson said from his home in Girona, Spain. "It's a massive emotional rollercoaster for me right now.

"My head space is absolutely in the correct place. I have never been so motivated for the next six weeks.''

His first job starts on Sunday morning (NZT) when he lines up for his first Tour de France, cycling's premier event. He missed out on previous Tours largely because he was a Kiwi in a parochial British outfit at Team Sky and, at 35, this year might have been considered his last chance.

His principal role with his new team, Lotto-Belisol, will be to act as Andre Greipel's leadout man in the sprints and to survive Le Tour.

He will traverse 3497km over three weeks and it's seen as ideal preparation for the Olympics. It's one of the main reasons why Henderson was selected ahead of Roulston and Dean, who have both been named as reserves, but Dean has questioned whether he will recover in time for the Olympics less than a week after the conclusion of the Tour de France.

Linda Villumsen will make her Olympic debut on the road for New Zealand after competing for Denmark at Beijing in 2008 and is a strong chance for a medal in the women's time trial.

The 27-year-old was fifth in the women's road race in Beijing riding for Denmark before becoming a New Zealand citizen in 2009 and won bronze in the time trial at the world championships in 2009 and 2010, and silver in 2011.

Bauer's time trialling was a major factor in his selection _ he played a key role in his Garmin-Barracuda team's win in the team time trial at the recent Giro d'Italia and he also finished 19th at last year's world championships.

His role will be to support Henderson in the road race and Henderson will need all the help he can get given the New Zealand duo will be up against large teams from other countries. The course is expected to favour Britain's Mark Cavendish, the best road sprinter in the world, but Henderson is bullish about his chances of causing an upset.

"I snuck over there under cover a while ago with a friend of mine and we did a recon of the course,'' he said. "One of his first comments was this is a course that suits the climbing sprinter.

"There are so many countries that have invested in a bunch sprint that only the fit sprinters will make it to the line and that's one of my attributes. I'm really, really excited about the Olympic road course.''

It will be his fifth Olympics but first time on the road after competing in the last four on the track. He's built a good professional record since turning to the road in 2004 and has won stages in the Tour of Spain, the Paris-Nice (twice), Tour of Britain, Tour of Catalunya and Tour of California.

"In 1996 and 2000 [the Olympics] was an experience, and an overwhelming one. In 2004 and 2008, I went there expecting to win and was very disappointed. This year, I know what it's all about. I've been there, done that and know what it takes to win at this level.''

- APNZ

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