Greg Henderson in action. Photo: Graham Watson.
One of the country’s most celebrated cyclists, Greg Henderson, is expected to bring the curtain down on his cycling career in New Zealand when he competes in the Big Save Elite Road National Championships in Napier in the New Year.
Henderson has signed on for a further year with his Lotto Soudal World Tour team next year when he will turn 40, one of the oldest riders in the professional peloton, and he expects it will be his final year as a rider.
The Spain-based rider will return to visit his parents at Christmas and has become the first official entry for the national championships, to be held for the first time on a new street circuit in downtown Napier on January 8-10.
Henderson, who has enjoyed success in the sport around the world, has yet to win the national road championship and would dearly love to compete in what is anticipated to be his final year on the world stage in the New Zealand jersey.
"It would be great to be able to take the jersey back to Europe and be able to wear it with pride on the World Tour. It would be special," Henderson said from his home in Girona.
While the course in Napier includes laps up the spectacular Hospital Hill, Henderson is hoping it will be more kind to his specialist sprinting skills, after the championships were stage over the Cashmere Hills in Christchurch for the past five years.
"That climb up Dyers Pass was around five minutes and that was just a bit long for me. I don’t mind hills and hopefully the shorter, sharper climb and technical nature of the course in Napier will suit more although I haven’t studied it yet."
Henderson has enjoyed an illustrious career on the track and road, competing in four Olympics - he does not rule out a fifth in Rio - and three Commonwealth Games, along with a world championship in the scratch race in 2004.
Next year will be his 10th at the top level of the sport on the road and his fifth for Lotto Soudal where he has developed into the key support rider for top sprinter
He has enjoyed 13 professional wins, including a stage of the Vuelta a Espana and twice in the famed Paris-Nice, ridden in 10 Grand Tours and eight Classics.
"Most likely this will be my last year. I really want to get to 40 and still compete at the top level. I work really hard at my career and to be in top shape and think it would be a real accomplishment."
He has never ridden in Hawkes Bay and is looking forward to the new event.
"It’s exciting to have the championship move there. It is a strong area for cycling and it sounds like a really interesting course right in the middle of the city. I am really looking forward to it."
Henderson has already developed started a coaching career, something he would like to pursue more when he steps off the bike.
"I’ve been there and done that. When the sports science guys talk about something, I can say that I know because I’ve ridden it so many times.
"I’m helping quite a few riders now including some in my own team, more using my experiences on how to prepare and train properly and how to approach certain races. It’s something I would like to do more once I stop riding."
Henderson has a training camp in Spain before he heads home with his family in Central Otago for Christmas where he will complete his final preparations for the national championships in Napier.
Napier is hosting the Big Save Elite Road National Championships between 8-10 January next year. It is part of the inaugural Hawke’s Bay Summer Cycling Carnival which runs from January 7- 17. To find out more go to www.summercyclingcarnival..co.nz