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“My surgeon knows me pretty well by now. My knee just exploded at the Tour. It was a stupid crash. I was not a happy chappy, but it was not as serious as it looked. This year, I’ve been king of the comebacks.”

Photo: Sirotti




23.11.2014 @ 14:28 Posted by Joseph Doherty

Greg Henderson put the disappointment of a serious knee injury sustained during the Tour de France’s fourth stage behind him as he looks forward to 2015 in an interview with VeloNews, after taking his first win for three years in the Ster ZLM Toer this June.

His time of being the number one sprinter on a team may be over, but he has become a key part of the Lotto-Soudal lead out and he does still have the chance to win races, even at 38, as he showed in Ster.


“I am very happy. I had my chance to have my shots. A win now doesn’t make or break me. I am employed to do a job. At the Vuelta, I was looking after the Belgian champion [Jens Debusschere]. Some of these young guys really need help with positioning, how to save energy, how to move around the bunch, general skills in the peloton. I really enjoy doing that. That’s what I enjoy. André has the horsepower I never had. My biggest attribute was always positioning, so it works out perfect. My job is to position Greipel, and I drop him off with 200 meters to go, then he turns on the turbos at 2,000 watts. It’s impressive to watch. I am totally happy with that.”


From the joy of Henderson winning his stage in Ster, he was out only four days into his Tour de France campaign, a crash that “blew” his knee “straight open” and left him in agony. But it wasn’t the first time Henderson has had to undergo knee surgery recently.


“I had three knee surgeries over the past year, mate. I had a problem at the end of [2013]. After the team time trial at worlds, my knee was so sore, I skipped the Tour of Beijing to give it a rest and hoped it would resolve itself. Well, it never did, and I had surgery two months later. They found some old scar tissue in there, and it was fine. Then I crashed at the GP Samyn [in April], and I opened it up again, got some dirt off the road, and it got infected. I pulled out of Three Days of De Panne. So it was another surgery, and two weeks on the couch. After that, the training went perfect, and I started the Tour de France with huge motivation, and then I crashed on the fourth day. It was a stupid crash, and I landed on my knee, and it just exploded. It just blew straight open.”


“My surgeon knows me pretty well by now. My knee just exploded at the Tour. It was a stupid crash, I just crossed wheels with André [Greipel], and I landed right on it. I was not a happy chappy, but it was not as serious as it looked. They sewed me up, and I was back for the Commonwealth Games [ed: he was seventh]. This year, I’ve been king of the comebacks.”


The emergence of various teams, not least Giant-Shimano, using sprint trains has made it harder for Lotto and the likes of Greipel and Henderson to win in recent years, but rather than get frustrated, Henderson says the increase in competition makes it “more of a challenge” and “more satisfying when you win.”


The veteran New Zealander has seen plenty of bunch sprints in his time and not many are better placed to comment on how sprinting has changed from Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke and Oscar Freire to Greipel, Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish.


“There are pure power sprinters, like Greipel and Kittel, who just want to get to the front, and they will smash the pedals. Guys like McEwen and [Mark] Cavendish, they’re more nimble, and they can move through the peloton, and use their pure speed to win. When McEwen was at the top of his game, you’d be looking around, where’s Robbie? He’d be tucked in behind someone, and then, oh, there he is, and he wins. There are different types of sprinters today. Kittel is so strong, with 200 meters to go, when he opens up, there is almost no chance to pass him. The only way to beat him is to try to make him tired before the final sprint. [Alexander] Kristoff, he’s another big, strong guy. They just blast off. Sprinters have changed a bit the past few years.”


He agrees that sprinting is in another Golden Period, with so many riders capable of winning big sprints.


“It’s very deep right now. Five years ago, it was all Cavendish, and everyone else was racing for second. There’d be Greipel, maybe [Tyler] Farrar, and then here comes Kittel. We have three very fast guys right now, with Greipel, Kittel, and Cav. And guys like Kristoff, [Luka] Mezgec, [Sacha] Modolo, all coming up. Even if you lined it up perfectly at the Tour, you could still be fifth at the line. The guys are lightning-quick, and the field is deeper. More teams are bringing their trains. It’s an exciting time right now for the sprints.”


“Then you get guys like [John] Degenkolb, [Peter] Sagan, and [Michael] Matthews, guys who can get up a 10-minute climb. The pure sprinters cannot do that. They’ve had to change their sprinting styles. They’ve lost a little speed in the pure sprints, but they can get over those hard climbs that the sprinters cannot, and then they can win out of a smaller group. There are two options to win a sprint these days: the first is to put out 2000 watts at the line, or 450 watts for a 10-minute climb at the end of a race, and win out of a small group. It’s still bloody exciting.”


Lotto have had a tough time dealing with Kittel, and he has taken eight Tour de France wins in two years while Cavendish and Greipel only have two in the same period.


“He’s hard to beat. I’ve been studying footage on YouTube to try to figure out a way to beat him, to see if he has a flaw in his sprint. The problem is, he’s bloody strong. He doesn’t have a big kick, it’s like he’s a bloody steam train. To beat him is very difficult. But that’s bike racing. We have to find a way to beat him. You cannot just go into the race thinking about second place, especially if you’re a sprinter. We do what we normally do, and try to put André in perfect position with 200 meters to go, and hit it out on the line. André’s pretty bloody strong, too.”


Henderson is nearing the end of his career but he is happy with his job in the team and he is thinking solely towards performing well in 2015. But he has begun to make plans for life after bike racing, and he has started a coaching business.


“I have about 12 guys that I look after, mentor, and coach. It’s something I really enjoy, and it’s an avenue I’d like to explore when I retire, whether it’s coaching on my own, or as a sport director, or coach for a team. I have a sport science degree from university, and it’s always been a passion of mine. I am always reading articles to stay up to date, and I’m always interested in the new training techniques. When I was at Team Sky, I was always pestering the coach there with questions. One day he said, ‘Hendo, are you sick? You have haven’t asked one question all day.’”






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