Durable Henderson all stitched up, raring to go
MARK GEENTY IN GLASGOW
He's worn New Zealand black at eight Commonwealth or Olympic Games, and it was going to take something major to stop Greg Henderson climbing on his bike for a ninth.
So the small matter of a 12cm gash to his knee suffered on the Tour de France, which required surgery and contained stitches up till a week ago, became just a minor inconvenience.
As he rolled up his tracksuit leg and revealed the long, purple scar running down his kneecap, the road warrior of New Zealand's cycling team pronounced himself fit to attack tonight's 168km road race around Glasgow's city streets.
A five-hour training ride on Thursday, after some intense sessions to test out the knee, convinced 37-year-old Henderson he would line up in his fourth Commonwealth Games to try for a fifth medal, or try to help team-mate Jack Bauer onto the podium.
''It's nice to just be here. It could have been easy, if I had a few years left, so say I'll do the next Olympics,'' Henderson said.
''It really gave me the motivation to go out every day and ride as far as I could and test the knee. It's good to know that I'll be fit enough to play an important role in hopefully another New Zealand success.''
Spain-based Henderson is one of New Zealand's unsung sporting marvels. He first donned the black lycra on the track as a teenager in Atlanta in 1996, his first of five Olympics.
He won gold in the points race in Manchester 12 years ago and hadn't forgotten how it felt.
He explained the lure of the Games, and how he wasn't going to miss it for anything before rushing back to his Lotto-Belisol team early next week.
''For New Zealand, 100%, for the family, 100%, for my pro team, they're not even sure what the Commonwealth Games are. But to us it means so much,'' he said.
''You see everyone that wins any event here, the joy and emotion of winning the Commonwealth Games. It's been a while since I won mine back in 2002 but I thought I was bloody King Kong, it felt amazing.
''Then the reality sets in. I fly home on the fourth and straight back into a six-day tour on the sixth, back to reality. You're racing for New Zealand so it's huge for us.''
Henderson has two years left on his pro contract and it wouldn't surprise to see him available for a remarkable sixth Olympics in Rio in 2016.
But he noted the Rio road race course was likely to be hilly, not his forte, and with two New Zealand quota spots likely, he expected it would be a bridge too far.
Two years ago Henderson and Jack Bauer lined up in London with Henderson the target man. Instead he took ill during the race and Bauer rode outstandingly on his own to finish 10th.
This time Bauer, on the strength of his agonising near miss in stage 15 of the Tour de France, is New Zealand's go-to rider. Henderson will
be in the mix too if his knee holds up and it becomes a bunch sprint.
He expects to be aggressive around the 14km city circuit when he, Bauer, Jesse Sergent, Mike Northey and track gold medallists Tom Scully and Shane Archbold set off just after 11pm (NZT).
''It's one of those circuits where I can see 10 riders getting away and because it's so technical and up and down and dodgy corners. That's going to be our No 1 plan but we'll be ready for everything.
''We'll go early. Because there's going to be 140-odd on the start line and we don't want to be going around those corners with 140 bike riders. That first lap is going to be full gas to get rid of the excess baggage then maybe it's down to 60-70 already.''
And there's one other motivation, as Australia and their spearhead, Tour de France rider Mark Renshaw, go for their fifth successive gold in the event.
''Apparently the bookies have got Mark Renshaw favourite. I'd like to prove them wrong.''