Greg Henderson Q&A: Weighing up a respected and well-rounded career
Earlier this month Andre Greipel was in glum spirits. He’d last taken a win on stage two of the Giro d’Italia, had been frustrated ever since there and, for the first time in seven years, was unable to land a stage victory in the Tour de France. His malaise had continued since that race and, after stage three of the BinckBank Tour, it all came to a head.
“This is not my best time as a cyclist, but what can I do about it?” he told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. “As you can see, the team continues to believe in me. But it’s as if I’ve lost all instincts to make the right decisions.
“Today I was in fourth position with 400 meters to go. In the end, I cannot even sprint. I’ve completely lost my instinct on the bike.”
Greg Henderson is too polite to make a point about it, but it can be argued that his departure from Lotto-Soudal may have played a part in Griepel’s change of fortune. The Kiwi rode alongside the German for five years, starting in 2012, and had a key role in his successes. The former world scratch race champion was an important part of his leadout train and helped put Greipel exactly where he needed to be before the sprint was launched.
Despite that, crossed wires with the team plus a lack of budget meant that he missed out on a contract renewal. At the time he said that he had hoped to do another year with the team but, instead, he headed to the American-based UnitedHealthcare squad.
Had things worked out differently, does he believe that Greipel would have fared better this year?
Henderson has to be pushed to respond and, when he does, his answer is careful and measured. “I always make sure that I am in 100 percent top condition. So if I had planned to do another year at the top level, there is no question that I would have gone to the Tour in top condition,” the 40-year-old states. “And there is no question that he would arrive at 200 metres to go in the best place. So for sure it would have helped him.”
In the Q&A below, Henderson talks about the transition period Greipel is going through plus his belief that he can get back on track. He discusses his year with UnitedHealthcare and how it has helped him transition so well towards his upcoming retirement.
He looks back at his career, naming his key achievements, the teammates who most stand out and also the rival he most respected. He also talks about his post-career plans, including a new position with USA Cycling.
CyclingTips: In recent days you mentioned on social media that you had just done your last UCI race [the Colorado Classic]. Do you have any non-UCI stuff left before you retire?
Greg Henderson: Yeah, I am going to do a couple of criteriums, finishing up with Doylestown. Then I will head back to New Zealand to ride there and to thank everyone for their support.
With the UCI races done, how do you feel about things? Are you happy, sad, reminiscent, or what are your emotions?
I am pretty happy, actually. Things have really fallen into place. At the worlds in 2015 in Richmond, I started laying the foundation to retirement in 2017. I knew I wanted to do the Tour one more time, and then come over here and ease into retirement. And to start off coaching, which is really starting to gather momentum now.
So was it always envisaged to be just one year with UnitedHealthcare?
Yes, absolutely. One year here. Like I have said, I have been very busy developing relationships with other companies. I am off tomorrow to track camp with USA Cycling. I have moved in there as performance coach. And I am starting a contract with Zwift also, I am going to do a live broadcast with them. So everything is falling into place.
When you look back at this year, what are the standouts for you?
I really enjoyed working with the young guys. Working with Travis [McCabe], he has got a lot of potential. He’s got obviously a few things to learn and to decide maybe what direction exactly he wants to head. He doesn’t train like a sprinter, he is very strong and very fast.
I enjoy looking after those guys. We set up a train – Malaysia was quite fun, and the Tour of California, up against the big boys – that was quite fun. To be honest, I really, really enjoyed this year. UCH looked after me so well, they are such a professional outfit. Because there was a less stress, and there is nothing that can compare to the stress of preparing for the Tour de France, I really had fun racing my bike. I really enjoyed it.
It was never a situation where I was just on the limit for a week. The racing was super-manageable. So it was really nice, I really enjoyed it.
You said you wanted to do this year as a wind-down. With your coaching background, do you believe it is important for an athlete to have a year at a lower level before packing up? Are there benefits to that?
Absolutely. That was the decision. I don’t think I would cope very well going cold turkey, so to speak. So if you can take that step down, great. You still have to be professional, to turn up to the races fit; that is what I like to do anyway. But just that little step down is just a really nice transition. I got a lot more time at home with the family and the kids. Like I said, I really couldn’t ask for a better transition.
Where is your coaching at now?
Well, I am pretty busy. My coaching website is predominantly a structured programme that you download, as I can’t do the one-on-one stuff at the moment as I have so much going on. But that’s not to say at the future that I won’t be doing that. Building it is just about brand awareness, really. We will try to slowly build Coachhendy.com over the years.
I remember even my last year at Lotto, the guys would just call me Coach Hendy. So hopefully that name will stick.
When you look back at your career in total, what are the standouts?
I think my first Olympic Games in 1996 was pretty special. I went to the Games with one of my best friends – he still is my best friend, Scott Cameron [note: Cameron competed in swimming]. We went to the same school. We were both 18 or 19 years of age. So that is the highlight. And then obviously when I won the world title in 2004, I was consistently taking championship medals around then.
And then when I went to the road and I won my Grand Tour stage. I won nine or ten races, or whatever number it was. I was consistently performing at the highest level there.
There was kind a three stage process to my career. Obviously the last stage was guiding Greipel around, which became very, very successful and something I was known for.
Andre has said recently that he is frustrated by sprinting, that he can’t get anything right. Do you think your not being kept on by Lotto-Soudal was a factor in Andre ‘losing his way,’ to some extent? In other words, do you think that, in retrospect, the team might have regretted not keeping you?
I don’t think they regretted it, no. And I wouldn’t say Andre has lost his way either. If you look at his power profiles, he has still a super top end. But I think maybe for six years he was guided through the sprints, and he didn’t have to do all the thinking in a bunch sprint himself.
He had me. And that was my job, to do the thinking, to put him in the right place. And now it is just that adaption back to doing it himself again, or trying to trust someone else. Greipel and I were doing almost every race together, so there was 100 percent trust.
It will take a little while. He will find his groove, he will find exactly how to do the sprints again on his own. There is no way that he is finished at all. It is just a transition phase.
But is it fair to say that if you had been kept on, that things would have worked out better for him?
Eh….[pauses, thinks about his response]. I always make sure that I am in 100 percent top condition. So if I had planned to do another year at the top level, there is no question that I would have gone to the Tour in top condition, and there is no question that he would arrive at 200 metres to go in the best place. So for sure it would have helped him.
But it was a decision that was made a few years ago, and we are happy with it.
You have mentioned Andre, but who are the other standout guys that you have raced alongside? Aside from Andre, who else would stand out?
As a teammate?
As a teammate, and then maybe others who you will also remember most.
I really enjoyed being teammates with Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins. I had a nice time with all those guys – I think the Poms, the Kiwis and the Aussies have the same sort of mentality. I really enjoyed racing with those guys.
As far as the peloton, I was always impressed with Marcel Kittel. Even if we did the bunch sprint perfectly with Greipel, Kittel could somehow still get around him. You have to take your hat off to that.
So Kittel would be the competitor that would stand out most?
I think so.
You are going to have a bit more time on your hands now not being pro. I know you have the coaching now, but is there anything else you are going to do? Maybe something that you haven’t been able to do – any leisure-type things that you are looking forward to?
I am looking forward to doing it all, to be honest! I am looking forward to kicking a football around with my kids, I am looking forward to getting back to the BMC track. Basically I am really looking forward to it.
I will probably have more injuries from not riding the bike than I have had over the last few years! There will be knee strains, ankle strains, all sorts of things going on when I try to adapt to things again.
Are you going to stay over in Colorado, or what are the plans for living?
Yeah, we are going to stay here. We bought a house here, so our five-year plan is Boulder, Colorado. That’ll tie in with the USA Cycling role.
My next job is to do the Pan-Am Games with the federation. Then I go to the road worlds for the men and women, to help them with the tactics, to help them if it comes down to a field sprint.