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He turned 40 years of age on Saturday but Greg Henderson has signed up for at least another year in the peloton, inking a contract with the UnitedHealthcare team and planning a relocation to the U.S.
Henderson had earlier told CyclingTips that he would be ending his time with Lotto-Soudal, the Belgian team with which he had raced for the past five seasons. During his time there he was one of the key leadout riders, helping others such as Andre Greipel to Tour de France stage victories plus wins in countless other events.
Now, as one of the most experienced riders who will don a UnitedHealthcare kit in 2017, he believes he will have his own chances in races.
“I have signed a year with UnitedHealthcare,” Henderson told CyclingTips. “It is perfect – I want to finish off my professional career with a bang, I want to win some good races in America. And I want to be really, really constructive to the team in America.
“I want to play a really vital part, not only in results but in melding the team together. I think that is definitely one of my attributes as a bike rider. I am looking forward to bringing that to UnitedHealthcare.”
The Kiwi had initially hoped to stay with Lotto-Soudal and when he was hampered by a bad saddle sore earlier this season, went beyond the call of duty to stay in line for a Tour de France ride. Unable to sit down, he did out-of-the-saddle rides on the indoor trainer for up to three hours and at simulated altitude. He also slept in an altitude tent to ensure he was as fit as possible when he came back to competition.
Despite helping Andre Greipel to a stage win in the Tour and also assisting other teammates, he said afterwards that crossed wires with the team plus a lack of budget meant that he missed out on a contract renewal.
Henderson was determined to continue and now, with a deal inked with UnitedHealthcare, he can see positives to the new direction.
“It is time for the family now to desegregate from Spain and move into an English-speaking environment,” he said. “The kids are at that age where it is time to move on. It is the perfect timing to leave Europe, not only for myself but also my family. We are ready to take the next step and start the next chapter in our lives.
“We will move to Boulder, which is a place Katie [his wife] and I love. We used to live there when we were kids, racing around as pros. That is where we met and we have a lot of fond memories there. I also used to do my altitude camps for the Tour de France there, and we have family and friends in the area. So it is a nice transition.”
Henderson said that when he was speaking to UnitedHealthcare about a possible contract, the team’s main question was about whether he would still be fired up to perform.
He told them that there is no doubt about that.
“To be honest, I really enjoy it. I am a racer first of all and I think I will always be a racer,” he told CyclingTips. “Put a number on me and I will race you down the street. That is just the way I am.
“It is just my nature. When I put a number on my back, I am there to race. There is nothing worse that the feeling of being inadequate at a bike race. Okay, some people don’t give a shit but for me that is not acceptable. I hate that feeling.
“But I also always get a real enjoyment out of learning. I am always reading sport science articles. And also the training, I enjoy the hard work. So I am lucky in that regard, that I enjoy both aspects of cycling.
“The only thing I don’t like is travel. Now that I am 39, 40, just leaving the family is getting harder and harder. That is the one thing that I won’t miss. In that sense the UnitedHealthcare programme will be ideal, as the programme is a bit less intense and there will be more time at home.”
‘I’ll aim to be flying for California’
Henderson isn’t ready to turn the page on 2016 just yet. Providing he can get a good programme of racing to hone his form, ideally including a ride in the Eneco Tour, he is hoping to lead the New Zealand team at the world road race championships in Qatar next month. He rode solidly last year and believes that this year’s race could be a very good one for him.
“I think it is a circuit that suits me down to the ground,” he said. “Those circuit races with accelerations, long drawn out with crosswinds and flat as a pancake. That is my cup of tea.”
Once the new year rolls around, he will have other objectives.
“I will definitely aim to be flying when those big races like the Tour of California and Utah come around. They are obviously big races for UnitedHealthcare and they want to be seen there.
“Okay, because California is WorldTour now the team will need a wildcard. But with it being the biggest team in the US, they should have a pretty big chance of getting into it. So that will be a big focus.”
Other races throughout the year will also be targets for him. “I will race 100 percent for UnitedHealthcare,” he said. “That is just how I race.”
Looking a little further ahead, Henderson said he is open to possibility continuing beyond next season. But if that doesn’t pan out, he already has something lined up due to his road and track experience plus his coaching qualifications.
“Who knows what the future holds with regards racing in 2018? But if things don’t pan out for that I am in very good negotiations with Malaysian cycling to take over their track endurance programme,” he revealed.
“I know John Beasley a long time. He is the sprint coach for Malaysia. He was Katie’s coach for 10, 12 years, and he has done amazing things with the Malaysian sprint riders. Working with him and learning from him will be great.
“In the long term, it is a coaching future that I am looking towards. Before then, I’m completely committed to racing with UnitedHealthcare.
“I am actually really excited to race with the team and in the U.S. It’s the right time for a new chapter, and it is going to be a really enjoyable year for the family and I.”