Greg Henderson on a high as good news rolls in
Greg Henderson has been so overwhelmed with good news during the past couple of weeks he is struggling to find the words to explain it all.
As if having his ill mother-in-law respond well to chemotherapy wasn't enough, the 35-year-old road cyclist from Dunedin was then delivered the two pieces of career-related news he so craved.
Last week he was told he'd be riding his first Tour de France, the pinnacle for road cyclists, and yesterday he was given the nod to represent New Zealand in his fifth Olympic Games, but first on the road.
"I can't even explain it to you," the former world track champion said of his emotions during the past week.
"I've never had to answer so many phone calls, so many text messages, so many interviews. First it was official confirmation I'd be riding the Tour, and I'm sure some of the public know about some of the problems I've had with sick family before that, and there's good news on that front too.
"The last two weeks I've honestly been on this massive emotional rollercoaster. It's just been a run of good news. My headspace is absolutely in the correct place. I've never been so motivated for the next six weeks."
Henderson will line up on the Olympic road race start line on July 28 with fellow World Tour pro Jack Bauer as his support, the Takaka-born rider getting the nod over Hayden Roulston and Julian Dean largely due to his time-trialling ability. He is seen as a top-15 prospect in the time trial.
It was the toughest of calls for the selectors to leave riders the calibre of Dean and Roulston out, but testament to New Zealand's depth at the elite level.
Henderson is essentially a sprinter who can climb so he's seen as the perfect fit for the Olympic course and the rider himself fancies his chances after a recent reconnaissance mission to London.
"It's a course that suits the climbing sprinter," he said from Spain yesterday. "Being in the pro peloton for a number of years, you can see what teams are going to think, how they're going to try and ride the course. It's a tough climb, but it's not a long climb and you're going to get people attacking.
"It will affect the unfit guys but there is still 50km from the top of that climb till the finish line and ... only the fit sprinters will make it to the line. That's one of my attributes. I'm really excited about the Olympic course."
This will be Henderson's fifth Olympics, his previous four being as a track team member. He was part of the men's pursuit team in 1996 and 2000 before recording his best Olympic results at Athens in 2004, finishing fourth in the points race and seventh in the Madison. He was 10th in both events at the 2008 Olympics.
A seasoned professional now, he reckons he'll take a different attitude to London, one where he puts less pressure on himself.
"In 1996 and 2000 it was an experience, and overwhelming. In 2004 and 2008, I went there expecting to win and obviously I was very disappointed, I got fourth in 2004 and I had some personal problems in 2008.
"This year, I know what it's all about. I've been there, done that and I know what it takes to win at this level. I wouldn't say there's extra pressure, I'm really looking forward to it."
And as for completing a gruelling Tour de France just before the big show, Henderson, who has ridden the Tour of Spain and Tour of Italy several times, cannot think of better preparation than completing the "most structured" of the three Grand Tours.
"I haven't ridden a Tour de France before, but having spoken to other people, OK the pressure is monumental, but the actual stages are easier and more structured than the other Grand Tours.
"I've done four or five Grand Tours now and every time you come out of one you have these legs, this endurance, that you just can't replicate in training. For me, being an older athlete and having that endurance capacity, doing a Grand Tour the week before the Olympics is a massive advantage."
Multiple world championship medallist Linda Villumsen was the third member of the Kiwi road team named yesterday, the Danish-born star a genuine medal hope in her preferred time trial.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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