Greg Henderson keen to finish with a flourish
An encouraging sprint behind Mark Cavendish has New Zealand cycling officials confident Greg Henderson can go out with a bang at his final Commonwealth Games.
The 37-year-old was named yesterday for his fourth Commonwealth Games, to go with four Olympic appearances.
He heads one of the strongest New Zealand men's lineups in recent memory, with a road race medal in Glasgow seen as mandatory four years after Hayden Roulston's silver in Delhi.
Henderson underwent knee surgery then suffered an infection which delayed the start to his pro tour season as lead-out man for Lotto-Belisol.
He contested the Tour of Turkey, which ended last weekend, and BikeNZ's high performance director Mark Elliott liked what he saw against the world's best.
"He was in the final gallop in the Tour of Turkey and he looked to me like he was two bike lengths off Cavendish. Considering he's coming back from injury he's looking good," Elliott said.
Henderson is one of five pro tour riders in the six-strong New Zealand road team; alongside Roulston and Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing), 2012 Olympic 10th placegetter Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp) and George Bennett (Cannondale).
"These guys are all highly motivated to race for New Zealand; it is special for them. That's why Hendy is telling me how he's getting on, because he wants to be part of it," Elliott said.
"This will probably be Greg's last shot at a Comm Games and knowing how important that is he'll want to make it a big one."
While that has New Zealand officials excited, there's also uncertainty between now and the Glasgow road race on August 3, which is one week after the Tour de France ends.
New Zealand's Tour de France involvement depends on the whims of their teams. The relative strengths of the Glasgow combatants, and whether the big guns turn up at all, will only become clear after the dust settles in Paris.
For that reason, Elliott was reluctant to nominate the team's best medal chance, other to say they'd be "gutted" to miss the podium. Their claims are stronger than four years ago when three track riders crossed over to help out on the road, and Roulston was pipped by Australia's Allan Davis.
Australia will be toughest to beat again, going by the dominant form of their Orica GreenEdge team, while Great Britain split up into individual nations, with Cavendish competing for Isle of Man.
Countries can enter up to six in the road race, while in the time trial New Zealand's three men's spots will be taken by the in-form Sergent, Bauer and young Aucklander James Oram.
Linda Villumsen again heads the women's road team of five, which includes her Wiggle Honda team-mate Emily Collins and veteran Jo Kiesanowski.
Villumsen won silver, behind Canada's Tara Whitten in the Delhi time trial. She finished second, third and second at the past three world championships and an agonising fourth at the London Olympics, less than two seconds off a medal.
"She's sick of getting bronzes and silvers and she wants to step it up," Elliott said.
"She loves tight, technical courses. She handles her bike amazingly at speed so the course suits her. Delhi didn't, it was a big slog on a motorway."