Henderson primed for vital role on le Tour
If Andre Greipel wins the opening stage of the Tour de France tonight, look back about 10 riders to see New Zealand's Greg Henderson doing a double fist pump.
For sprinters at the Tour de France usually the highest achievement they get are stage wins and battling to wear the lesser known green jersey.
But this year there is no prologue (short time trial) to start the race and whoever is first across the line in Bastia, Corsica, will get to wear the coveted yellow jersey.
Greipel, Henderson's Lotto Belisol team-mate, is likely to battle it out with Britain's Mark Cavendish for the stage win.
Henderson is the lead-out man for Greipel and he'll be responsible for guiding the German close to the front about 300m from the finish line.
Greipel's success is heavily dependent on Henderson, because he needs to get him into a better position than Cavendish is in.
There are other stages that will come down to a sprint finish over the next three weeks, but the fact that the winner will be in yellow means this one is as significant as the Tour's final stage in Paris.
"It has been a long time since a sprinter wore the yellow jersey," Henderson said from Corsica.
"It is definitely an added incentive to win this stage; not only do you get a grand tour win, but you also get the yellow jersey to go with it."
It is Henderson's second Tour de France. Last time he was the lone Kiwi in the peloton, but this year is joined by Jack Bauer, who is riding for Garmin Sharp.
As this is the 100th edition of the Tour, the organisers decided to make the start of it different and for the first time it is visiting the Mediterranean island of Corsica, where the first three stages will be held before the Tour moves to mainland France.
There have been concerns about how the small, narrow roads of Corsica will cope with 200 cyclists all battling to get into the position they want in the peloton and there will no doubt be a number of nasty crashes this weekend.
Henderson says the road is wide enough for stage one, but then things could get tough. "The finish of the stage is on what looks like one of the main highways of Corsica. It isn't super technical until the end," he said.
"Stage two and three are up, down, left, right, the whole way and there is definitely a recipe for disaster there for some GC [general classification] riders because there are going to be crashes and there will be so much stress in the peloton.
"Every year there are so many crashes in the first week and now we're going to be on tiny roads that don't go straight for more than 100m."
Stage two tomorrow night from Bastia to Ajaccio features a tough category two climb over the Col De Vizzavona 60km from the finish.
If Greipel and Henderson can get over the climb still in the peloton it's another stage they can win, but Henderson knows that other teams will be going full steam up the mountain so the out and out sprinters will get spat out the back.
"It is pretty obvious that Cannondale will try to go ballistic up it to try to unload the sprinters because they've got Peter Sagan, who'll be able to get over it," Henderson said.
"There is a long way from that climb to the finish, so there is a chance of coming back, but it just depends on how many get over it."