Cycling: National title key jewel for Henderson's crown

By Peter Thornton

After all he's achieved in cycling, ex-pat Kiwi makes special trip home for tough race he really wants to win.

Greg Henderson wants to wear the black jersey when he competes in Europe, to raise New Zealand's profile. Photo / Getty Images
Greg Henderson wants to wear the black jersey when he competes in Europe, to raise New Zealand's profile. Photo / Getty Images

Kiwi cyclist Greg Henderson has already achieved so much in the sport, including a Rainbow jersey, a stage win on a Grand Tour and five Olympics.

However, the Lotto-Belisol professional is the only rider among an experienced Kiwi quartet not to have won the national title - a key reason for his decision to travel from Melbourne for the Calder Stewart elite road race championships in Christchurch next weekend.

The retiring Julian Dean from GreenEDGE won the New Zealand road championships in 2007 and 2008, Radioshack Nissan Trek pro Hayden Roulston triumphed in 2006 and 2011, while Garmin-Sharp Olympian Jack Bauer beat them both in 2010.

That leaves Henderson among the senior New Zealand pros yet to claim the title, something he would dearly like to achieve.

"Absolutely, there's no question of that," said the 36-year-old, who is married to Australian cyclist Katie Mactier.

"I wouldn't be turning up and not try to win it. I am realistic as well. It's a hard race to win. I've only got one rider there - myself.

"But I can't win it sitting here at home in Melbourne, either. You've got to turn up on the start line to have a chance of winning it."

Henderson said the national championship was a tough nut to crack.

"The dynamics of the nationals is so different from any other race. By the last lap everyone is usually on their last legs. You're in ones and twos.

"If it was a Pro Tour race, you can predict what will happen nine times out of 10. But it's a New Zealand bike race and you're racing against some of the good young talent, club riders and trade teams who have all peaked for it, as well as some other pros racing as individuals too.

"It's a hard race to control and a hard race to dictate and a hard race to predict."

Henderson has a rich pedigree in the sport, starting on the track with a world title in the scratch race 10 years ago, a stage win in the Vuelta a Espana in 2009 along with six stage victories on the Pro Tour.

Specialising as a lead-out rider, Henderson set up German Greipel to 20 stage wins in 2012 with three of them coming in the Tour de France.

The Melbourne and Girona-based father of two knows what wearing the national jersey would mean to him.

"It would be beautiful to be able to wear that black jersey in Europe. New Zealand is pretty well known now.

"All the Kiwi bike riders who come over to Europe are well respected. It would definitely be nice and special to wear the jersey in Europe, for sure.

"It's a very prominent jersey too, so if you had the national jersey sitting in front of Greipel, who's winning stages of the Tour de France, I guess it's helping put New Zealand on the map."

Henderson, who studied at the University of Otago, is bringing his 3-year-old daughter, Charlie, to New Zealand and taking the opportunity to catch up with his family.

He's riding with a BikeNZ team in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour this week, and after the national championships he'll head for the first big goal of the season, at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide with his Lotto-Belisol team.

Calder Stewart

When: Friday, January 11

Where: Starts Lincoln University on Ellesmere Junction Rd, Christchurch

Race Distances: 120.5km (Elite Women) 183.7km (Elite and U23 Men)

Information: www.bikenz.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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