New Zealander Greg Henderson has been lauded by Andre Greipel for the impact he has had in bolstering the strength of his Belgian team’s lead-out train for the high speed bunch finishes.
Henderson, who is born in Dunedin but lives off-season in Melbourne with his wife and former Australian track sprinter Katie Mactier, raced with Greipel on the disbanded HTC-Highroad team. Last year he rode for the British Sky team, but left to join Greipel at Lotto-Belisol.
After Greipel, Henderson, 35, is one of the fastest in the Belgian world tour team. So he is the rider who gives Greipel the vital final lead out for the finishing sprints in which Greipel was triumphant on Tuesday in the 159km first stage of the Tour of Oman form Al Alam Palace to Wadal Al Huwqayn.
The sprint, on a slightly uphill finish and with a tailwind blowing, finished with Greipel beating Russian Denis Galimzyanov (Katusha) and American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda). Meanwhile, the best placed Australians were Matt Goss (GreeenEDGE) in 10th place, Graeme brown (Rabobank) in 11th and Chris Sutton (Sky) in 10th. Meanwhile, Greipel will lead the Tour of Oman overall by 4 seconds over Galimzyanov and 6 seconds over Farrar heading into Wednesday’s second stage, 140.5km from Sur on the Sea of Oman coast to Wadi Dayqah Dam south of Muscat.
There was no hiding the elation among the Lotto-Belisol team after Greipel returned to racing with a win after missing last week’s Tour of Qatar due to illness. Greipel, brimming with delight, went up, hugged and back slapped each of his teammates for their work as they finished in his wake.
Their effort also proved that the three stages won by Greipel in last month’s Tour Down Under in Australia was not a fly-by-night display of strength.
“Down Under was, for sure, not a one day fly,” Greipel said at the finish line. “That’s how we did it [then] and how we want to do it the whole year.”
Greipel praised his teammates in Oman that includes Australian Adam Hansen who led their train from two kilometres out to 900m to go. But when asked about Henderson and what he has brought to the lead-out train he really didn’t have until this year, Greipel said: “He brings a lot of experience.
“I can trust him. He’s always there. It’s the same with everybody else on the team. Everybody knows what they have to do, and the position they have in the lead-out train. So everybody has a part of my success. But [with Henderson] I come more relaxed into the finish. He takes a lot of pressure off my shoulders. I don’t need to fight for position. Last year we only had three guys to get me in position. That’s nearly impossible against lead-out trains.”
Meanwhile, Greipel remained typically mute about the performance of his rival sprinters and their teams. Although he did speak of “respect” for the British world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky) with whom he had a tense relationship when they were also teammates on HTC-Highroad.
Cavendish, who Greipel beat once in a stage of last year’s Tour de France where the Briton won fives stages, was reportedly run off the road on Tuesday by another rider with about 1200m to go, costing him position and momentum to even compete for the sprint finish. He placed 67th at 3secs.
“I always respect him. He is the world champion. He has won a lot of big races. He is one of the fastest – maybe he is the fastest in the bunch, but we don’t need to hide,” Greipel said, adding when asked if beating Cavendish meant more: “I am happy when I finish first. It doesn’t matter against who.”
He remained mute even when it was suggested that the value of his win was strengthened considering the depth of sprinters that are racing in Oman.
Besides Galimzyanov and Farrar who Greipel beat for first place in Tuesday’s first stage, they are Belgian Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Australian Matt Goss (GreenEDGE), Italian Andrea Guardini (Farnese Neri); Slovakian Peter Sagan (Liquigas), German Marcel Kittel (Project1T4i), Briton Adam Blythe (BMC) and Lithuanian Aidis Kroupis (GreenEDGE): “We are not looking at others,” Greipel said. “We have a lot of horsepower in our team and we just need to stick to our plan. We need to stick to our own goals and that’s how it works and how did it [on Tuesday’s stage].”