Kiwi Greg Henderson will make his Tour de France debut this season alongside not just a teammate but friend Andre Greipel.
Henderson left team Sky at the end of last season to reunite with German sprinter Greipel, a former Highroad colleague, and fill the position of chief lead-out lieutenant.
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The 35-year-old along with Adam Hansen, Lars Bak, Marcel Sieberg and Jurgen Roelandts plus others is part of a drilled sprint train that has developed this season and helped deliver Greipel to 13 victories thus far.
“When I first joined the team I took control of the lead-out and there was a lot of instructions, I was yelling backwards and forwards on what side of the road to go and when to go and how far to go,” Henderson told Cycling Weekly from Spain. “But now we’ve done it so many times that it’s a lot easier for me because they all know exactly their jobs now.
“I may make a few decisions on the road. The one thing that does happen occasionally is Greipel will lose the wheel so whether I go back on my own to get him or the whole team goes back to get him that all depends on how far we are from the finish.
“We’re all mates and that’s the key also. We’re not just teammates. I’m not just leading out a German; I’m leading out a friend. You ride through a brick wall for them as opposed to just doing a job and it’s a big difference.”
Lotto-Belisol enters the 99th edition of the Tour, Greipel’s second appearance, with a sprint heavy squad but also an overall hopeful in Jurgen Van Den Broeck.
“He’s a really good chance of making the podium to be honest,” Henderson says of the latter. “We’ve got Hansen and Bak who can cross over there and ride the front, ride the low mountains. Andre’s got four or five guys at his disposal for the sprint, which I think he deserves.”
Henderson is unsure if Greipel has targeted the points classification as a goal with intermediate sprints now crucial to the green jersey competition. Recent reports suggest the maillot vert is not a pre-race target for the 29-year-old who tipped Peter Sagan as the favourite.
“To be honest I haven’t discussed it. I’m not savvy to that conversation,” Henderson says.
“Maybe he has decided he doesn’t want to put too much energy into intermediate sprints so he can win stages but I know, first off, our main goal is to win a stage. I’m sure if the green jersey presents itself there’s no reason why not, if we’re there consistently, (we) can’t go for it.”
Henderson tips Stage 1 will suit stronger men including BMC’s Philippe Gilbert but has penned in the following day, a 207.5km race to Tournai, as the first “gloves off” showdown for the pure sprinters.
Greipel may not be able to pick wheels as well as some of his rivals in a messy sprint finish but Henderson said that’s where the Lotto train his team leader has earned comes in.
“That’s why he’s built a team that he knows can get him in the right position, that he knows will work 100 per cent for him,” he says.
“Everybody knows Greipel’s favourite thing is not pushing guys off wheels and screaming down the barriers. If he’s following my wheel I can keep him out of the wind, I can put him in the right position and then I’ve got guys helping. That’s the whole crux of the situation, really.”
Henderson says the onus to work in sprint stages will not just be on his Belgian-based squad adding everyone should put in.
“People saying, ‘Oh, we’re not going to work’ that’s just bulls–t,” he says. “They’ve employed a sprinter, they’re taking a sprinter, if they want a bunch sprint they can help. Why would you employ a sprinter if you’re not going to help for a bunch sprint? I don’t know why people say that because at the end of the day the onus is on them just as much as us.”