Cycling: Le Mullet takes on Le Tour

By Michael Brown

Shane Archbold is one of a record three Kiwis lining up for this year’s Tour de France, writes Michael Brown.
Shane Archbold's mullet is a common sight in cycling circles. Photo / Photosport
Shane Archbold's mullet is a common sight in cycling circles. Photo / Photosport

Atrio of Kiwis will be looking to make an impact at this year's Tour de France and it seems Shane Archbold did as soon as he turned up for the team unveilings this week.

Archbold famously goes by the nickname The Flying Mullet, for obvious reasons. It's not as famous as Donald Trump's coiffure but it's no less flattering.

"I turned up at the presentation and saw he still hadn't had a haircut," Greg Henderson told Radio Sport. "Jeez, some of the looks he's getting from some of the guys ... it's magic. Half the Russians are quite jealous."

Archbold lists his life's ambition to "secure a shampoo sponsorship ... to keep the mullet looking glorious" but has a more serious goal in the next three weeks. The 27-year-old is competing in his first Tour de France, which began overnight (NZT), as a leadout rider for Bora-Argon 18 with the responsibility of looking after the team's main sprinter Sam Bennett and ultimately making it to the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Bora are a German outfit who received one of the four wildcard entries for teams who don't compete on the World Tour and are contesting their second Tour.

Archbold is better known for his exploits on the track, having won gold in the scratch race and bronze in the team pursuit at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but switched full-time to the road last year and proved his readiness when he completed last month's week-long Criterium du Dauphine, won by Tour favourite Chris Froome, which proved his ability to survive the French Alps.

"I wouldn't say I'm holding my own in the high mountains, I have just had this ability to suffer since I was kid," Archbold told last month. "I have adapted from the track days of suffering from four minutes to 50 minutes. Now on the road, I can suffer for four to six hours and wake up the next day and do the same all over again."

Henderson knows all about that. The 39-year-old, who is also a former Commonwealth Games gold medal winner on the track (2002 points race), started his fifth Le Tour overnight. It had been expected this would be his last before retirement but Henderson isn't quite ready to hang up the cleats.

"It's looking like the career of Greg Henderson will go on," he said. "I'm still loving it, I'm still at the top of my sport and I'm still very, very good at my job."

Henderson, like Archbold, is a leadout rider for the team's principal sprinter Andre Greipel and Lotto-Soudal have stacked their team with sprinters in the hope of picking up stage wins on the flat stages.

"We have brought our No 1 sprint train for Andre Greipel and he's in fantastic condition. Any day that has a bunch sprint, Lotto-Soudal will look to win. We should have the fastest last 2km of any team."

Greipel secured four stage wins last year but will face stiff competition from the sprinter of the moment, Marcel Kittel (Ettix-Quick-Step), who clinched four stage victories in 2014, and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), who has 26 stage victories to his credit.

The third Kiwi in the peloton is George Bennett. The Nelson rider will have a different role to Henderson and Archbold and will be a lot more visible on the mountain stages.

Greg Henderson is 39 but "still at the top of my sport and still very, very good at my job". Photo / Photosport
Greg Henderson is 39 but "still at the top of my sport and still very, very good at my job". Photo / Photosport

In fact, the 26-year-old is arguably the best climber from New Zealand to ride the tour and was brought in as a replacement for LottoNL-Jumbo team leader Robert Gesink, who crashed heavily in last month's Tour de Suisse.

Bennett proved at the Dauphine he's capable of sticking with the likes of Froome and Alberto Contador in the mountains but his key role will be to support new team leader Wilco Kelderman.

Jack Bauer also came close to selection for Cannondale but probably didn't have enough racing in his legs following his comeback from a broken femur in last year's Tour de France. He was not helped when he broke his wrist in his first race back.

Sam Bewley and Jesse Sergent also have Grand Tour experience and would have been considered by their teams.

Even so, having three Kiwis in the Tour is a record and an indication of the rising stocks of New Zealand road cyclists. It's something Henderson has noticed in his home town of Girona in Spain.

"I used to live there on my own," he said. "All of a sudden, Jesse Sergent, Sam Bewley and Hayden Roulston turned up. We did a count a couple of months ago and there are now 14 professional Kiwi riders living in Girona.

"It just shows the strength of New Zealand cycling. I have said many times we have the strength and depth of cycling talent. We just need the avenue to guide it to get us to Europe. It's slowly starting to have the trickle-down effect."

Henderson has played his own part in this, acting as a personal coach for Archbold and helping to convince him he was good enough to ride the Tour de France. He's had less luck, though, giving him advice about his choice in hair styles.

- Herald on Sunday

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