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Greg Henderson talks Tour de France debut
Jun 25th, 12. With less than one week to go until he makes his Tour de France debut, Greg Henderson talked to RoadCycling.co.nz about his expectations, nerves and form.
Sitting in an oxygen tent in Girona, Spain and preparing for his final big training day, the only Kiwi in this year's Tour de France said his feelings are more of apprehension than super-excitement.
Racing the Tour has been his big goal for the last three seasons, and finally the time has come. The Olympian and former Track World Champion has raced other Grand Tours but just as it is for those of us watching from the sidelines or following back here in New Zealand - he views the Tour de France as a whole new level of bike race.
"Everybody thinks like this now so mentally it becomes a bigger race too," he said of the Tour.
"If everyone was just like ‘another grandy’ then it would be just another Grand Tour but it isn’t, it can change you life can’t it. If you win a stage in the Tour de France it can change your life."
Henderson has known for a fair while that his Lotto Belisol team were taking a sprint train to the Tour, and that Andre Greipel had said he did not want to race the Tour without the Kiwi, but it was still great to find his name on the official announcement.
"I didn’t know what was going on, just all of a sudden my name was getting that many mentions on twitter – I guess Lotto made an official announcement," he said of last week's news.
"The amount of messages I’ve had on twitter from NZ and Australia is incredible. The other thing is here in Spain many people comment or stop me in the street now and say congratulations. In Belgium too, since I’m in a Belgian team, it’s pretty incredible."
Goals - stage success
For this Tour, winning a stage is Henderson's goal, via Greipel. The Dunedin born rider is the final leadout man in Lotto Belisol's sprint train.
Henderson is responsible for dropping Greipel off in perfect position and speed in order for the German to take the sprint victory. It is something the duo are well versed in - no one has taken more victories in top races this season than Greipel.
Once the team presentations are over and the kilometres start clicking along, Henderson expects to put the fanfare of the Tour behind him and to slip back into his familiar role, although he is very much aware this isn't just any other race.
"I’ve done a few races before where the road is just packed with spectators – when the crowd parts and you ride up through them – I’ve done races like that before in the mountain tops of Italy and Spain, but I think 90% of the stages are like that in France. It’s not just five or six key stages like other Grand tours.
"It’s the atmosphere, people screaming etc, but the way we approach it is 1km at a time. Once we approach 20km to go and we know it’s going to be a bunch sprint then we just go into autopilot and we know what we have to do."
Winning through Greipel
"I honestly think it is," Henderson said of having the same level of jubiliation from Greipel winning compared to winning himself.
"You know when you’ve done a really good job, and then you see what scalps he’s taken, or how much he’s won by – it’s a really nice feeling."
"When I’m the last man, I can tell by how fast they come past how the sprint is going to go. That’s why you see the leadout man celebrating 200m before the line because you know how fast he is coming by.
"If you’ve dropped him off really fast and then he comes by that much faster, you just know miles out that no one can pass that.
"Normally when Greipel comes past me my helmet gets sucked sideways, he’s going that fast!" he laughed.
Although Henderson isn't someone who grew up dreaming of riding the Tour de France, for the past few years it has become his focus, and as all pro-riders do, he would like to win a Tour stage himself one day too.
"I know I'm good enough to win a stage – if, and only if, something goes wrong with Greipel I'll definitely have a shot at a stage win myself," he said.
Stage 2 is the first focus
What Henderson said he is most looking forward is the first stage win, which he believes could be on Stage 2 on day three, after the prologue and after the first road stage which he sees as perfect for Phillipe Gilbert (BMC) rather than a bunch sprint.
“I reckon there will be the prologue, then that first day in Liege where we can kick back a little bit, the pressure is not on straight away and then that next day we are going to be so nervous – 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."
Feeling very fit
With his preparation all but done, Henderson feels as ready as he can be for the 21 stage tour.
"I feel really comfortable after five or six hours on the bike which is the most important thing, I think I'm really fit. I don't know how my threshold is and I don't know if I'm going to prologue well or not as I haven't done any of that work, but my sprint is good.
"My training has changed, I don't actually do sprint training, I just do long 30sec sprints so my power for 30sec is good, my peak power is still good and I'm really fit. I think they are the main attributes I need going into a Grand Tour."
NervesApart from his physical form, Henderson knows what he has to do mentally - stay focused.
"I know what I have to do. It will be interesting to see if I get nervous as I don't generally get nervous for bike races anymore. I'm sure I will.
"I'm sure I'll get that feeling like lining up for a team's pursuit - that was the last time I got nervous, when lining up at the Worlds for the team pursuit, even for a scratch race I wasn't ever nervous, so it will be interesting to see if I get nervous for this."
He expects those nerves to jump in at about the 20km to go mark on the sprint stages.
In many other races during the season Henderson says to himself, "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 he realises, "Hang on a minute, this is the Tour de France!"
"Everyone wants those first stages out of the way, then everyone will settle down a bit," he hopes.
Every stage a goal
The Tour de France finishes in Paris for the GC riders, but often some of the sprinters pull out earlier to save themselves from the final mountains and to recover for their next goals. Henderson, however, said he has not even considered not riding through to Paris.
"I’m sure there are going to be testing times – some very highs and some very lows but I’m mentally prepared for that. As long as the brain can hang on I think the body can hang on too," he said.
"Viva le Tour de France – let’s do it. Let’s just get this thing going."
More from this exclusive interview to be published in the next few days;
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