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Greg Henderson talks sprint expectations
Jul 2nd, 12. Before the Tour de France started, Greg Henderson told RoadCycling.co.nz about his expectations of the sprint stages - the first of which, Stage 2, is next up.
Henderson has faced sprint finishes in many countries, in different teams and in different roles - but he still expects to have to step up to another level in the final kilometres of sprint stages at the Tour de France.
"When you are doing races during the season you may touch the brakes in a sprint and say to yourself, 'I'm not squeezing down there, it's not the Tour de France', or 'I'm not going around there without brakes, it's not the Tour de France', but now, all of a sudden it's, 'hang on a minute, this IS the Tour de France'," he said.
"We're going to have to squeeze down that gap, take that corner blind because this is the Tour – everyone has that mentality, no one touches their brakes and inevitably, chaos ensues."
When someone does touch their brakes, that, says Henderson, is when those riders behind lose so much position. With the high speed at that end of the race, closing just the smallest of gaps can be an impossible task.
For this reason, everyone wants to be up the front - and of course not everyone can be! Henderson recalled a stage at the Giro d'Italia a couple of years ago which illustrates his point.
"We had the pink jersey with Wiggins and we rode the front all day, but every team was trying to keep their leader up the front too. They would actually come past and ride beside our team, so we had to line it out at 50km/h - but so was every other team.
"If you saw it in TV you'd think we were all just riding across the road, it wouldn't look that difficult, but we're actually doing 50km/h – every team, full gas beside each other!
"As the road was blocked by all the teams at that pace, if you dropped the ball or hit the brakes there was no way to get back to the front."
One thing Henderson knows he can count on is respect - something not always seen in lessor races.
Respect means he is not expecting anyone to cut into his leadout train and he won't cut into another team's train either.
"Everybody knows we've all done the hard yards to get here and there will be that mutual respect. It's a long race, long season, long career and you don't want that name for the rest of your career – there are already a couple of guys in the peloton like that," he said.
"At this level, everybody has that respect. If GreenEdge come past I know there will be four of them in a row. I wait, don't panic. Once all four have gone past then I can try and get out and go back around them – and they'll do the same.
"If we go down the outside they know there is going to be Roelandts, then me and they'll know Greipel's coming.
"We're all sort of mates as well. I was out training the other day with Brett Lancaster, he's the last man for Matt Goss on Orica GreenEdge. We were joking about we'll be side by side this week sprinting down the middle of the road, each with our sprinter on the wheel – but because we are mates we have that mutual respect for each other."
Noise a factor
Racing along at top speed makes it hard enough to talk to the rider behind you, but add hundreds of thousands of screaming fans and communication gets harder - it is one of the Tour de France unknowns for Henderson.
"I always yell out to make sure Greipel is on my wheel," Henderson said. "At the Tour Down Under criterium you actually couldn't talk to your teammates as it was so incredibly loud because of all the screaming fans - it's going to be interesting to see how easy communication is with the noise of the crowd. It is one of the biggest concerns. I always yell out to make sure he's on my wheel still."
So what does he expect in the first sprint - a big battle.
"Andre has a bit of pressure on him – coming into the Tour he's won the most sprints this season and there's a lot of media on him over here in Europe."
Greipel has already ridden to 13 victories this season - and Henderson believes there will be more during these three weeks - starting today.
"Everyone wants to deliver on the first sprint stage, it would be nice if we could nail that one. It would be a pretty special feeling," he said.
Battling Lotto Belisol will be Argos Shimano which has a whole team dedicated to their sprinter Marcel Kittel, Orica GreenEdge which also has a strong leadout train in support of Matt Goss, Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) who is still a big threat despite the lack of a Team Sky leadout train and numerous other fastmen including today's winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas Cannondale).
The time is here
"When we hit 20km to go, it will be like, 'oh shit, here we go'."
And as for Greipel?"I'm looking forward to tomorrow," the German said. "From the beginning of the Tour I knew Stage 2 would be one for the sprinting teams. We already showed we're ready, even today; in the intermediate sprint we've tested, not at 100 percent and at the end of the race, we showed how to function as a team."
"We have already explored the race of tomorrow. Lot of open spaces, in which side winds can play a big part. It will be a hard battle to choose position, speed will be very high, also during the preparation of the sprint.
"The finish is a bit up hill. If the sprinting train is a luxury or a necessity? A necessity, that's the way to make a difference. It gives you the chance to save some strength and position. The first sprint in the Tour is always nervous, there are about eight sprinters who can compete for victory."
This is the third in a series of articles from an exclusive interview with Henderson on Sunday 24th June, two days before he left his European home in Spain to head to his first Tour de France. The first article was Greg Henderson talks Tour de France debut and the second Henderson talks final Tour de France preparations.
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