Cycling: Henderson's eyes on the prize

Greg Henderson
Greg Henderson
Former Dunedin cyclist Greg Henderson has something he wants to tick off his to-do list.

The Melbourne-based rider will be in Christchurch this weekend in his attempt to win the national road championship for the first time.

Henderson (35) has a stack of honours to his credit including a world track title, a stage win on a Grand Tour, a Commonwealth Games gold medal and five Olympic appearances.

The Lotto-Belisol professional is the only rider among an experienced New Zealand quartet who has not won the national title.

The retiring Julian Dean won the New Zealand road championships in 2007 and 2008, professional Hayden Roulston triumphed in 2006 and 2011, and Olympian Jack Bauer beat them both in 2010.

That leaves Henderson among the senior New Zealand professionals yet to claim the title, something he would dearly like.

''Absolutely, there's no question of that. I wouldn't be turning up and not try to win it,'' Henderson said.

''I am realistic as well. It's a hard race to win. But I can't win it sitting here at home in Melbourne, either. You've got to turn up on the start line to have a chance of winning it.''

Henderson has a rich pedigree in the sport. He won a world title in the scratch race 10 years ago, had a stage win in the Vuelta a Espana in 2009, and has six stage victories on the Pro Tour.

Now specialising as a lead-out rider, Henderson set up German Andre Greipel to 20 stage wins in 2012, three in the Tour de France.

The father of two knows what wearing the national jersey would mean to him.

''It would be beautiful to be able to wear that black jersey in Europe. New Zealand is pretty well known now. All of the Kiwi bike riders who come over to Europe are well respected. It would definitely be nice and special to wear the jersey in Europe.

''It's a very prominent jersey, too, so if you had the national jersey sitting in front of Greipel, who is winning stages of the Tour de France, I guess it is helping put New Zealand on the map.''

Henderson is bringing 3-year-old daughter Charlie to New Zealand and taking the chance to catch up with his family.

A record seven World Pro Tour riders will compete at the championships: Henderson, Dean, Roulston, Bauer, George Bennett, Jesse Sergent and Sam Bewley.

They will encounter younger stars including defending champion James Williamson, of Alexandra, Josh Atkins, the youngest winner of the Tour of Southland in 2011, James Oram, Pieter Bulling and Dylan Kennett.

The women's race could also feature the rise of the young aspirants, led by talented professionals Emily Collins, Emma Crum, Kate Chilcott, Georgia Williams (all Auckland) and Sophie Williamson (Alexandra).

Former champions and Olympians Jo Kiesanowski (Christchurch) and Rushlee Buchanan (Te Awamutu) are likely favourites, along with Auckland Olympian Linda Villumsen.

There is also the prodigious talent of national club champion Reta Trotman (Otago), and the debut of Olympic mountain biker Karen Hanlen (Whakatane).

The championships begin with the time trials from Lincoln College today, where Villumsen, a four-time world championship medallist, is a clear favourite among the women and Paul Odlin defends his men's title.

The women's elite road race over 120.5km tomorrow comprises eight laps with six climbs of Dyers Pass.

The elite and under-23 men's race on Sunday is 12 laps in total for 183.7km, starting with a full lap on the flat before 10 circuits up the Dyers Pass climb.

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