By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor, and John Trevorrow
New Zealand sprinter Greg Henderson, a former world champion in the scratch race, was released from the second year of his two-year contract with the American Health Net-Maxxis team in order to sign with the ProTour T-Mobile squad for 2007.
"I am extremely grateful to the management, staff and riders of Health Net Presented by Maxxis for allowing me to pursue my lifelong dream of racing at the Pro Tour level in Europe," Henderson said in a team statement. "The team has supported me for over three years and been instrumental in helping me reach my highest potential as a pro cyclist. The organization has been absolutely critical to my development as a rider and as a professional."
Henderson was a key player in the dominating Health Net squads of recent years, making up a powerful duo with Gord Fraser at races like the Tour de Georgia where he helped Fraser win the sprint jersey. Henderson came into his own this year, even after he was sidelined for the first half due to injury. He won the inaugural Reading stage of this year's Philadelphia International Championship before sprinting to the win in Philly three days later.
Directeur sportif Jeff Corbett has managed Henderson for years now and is happy to see this door open for him. "I've watched him just get better and better every year," he said. "Moving to a ProTour team is the logical next step for Hendy. Naturally, we wish Greg all the best at his new team."
Henderson follows a recent trend of ProTour teams dipping into Health Net for talent. It began with Jason McCartney riding strong in 2005, particularly at the Tour de Georgia where Johan Bruyneel took notice. Last year Tyler Farrar strong riding on both the Health Net and U.S. National team landed him a spot with Cofidis.
At the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, where Henderson is currently racing, Cyclingnews asked him how the deal happened. "It came about in a funny way," said Henderson. "I had already sent a CV to Bob Stapleton and he saw me win in Philly so I sent another CV through to Alan Peiper, as he had texted Katie to ask if I was still interested in racing in Europe. Alan got in touch with his good mate Henk Vogels as he hadn’t seen me racing very much, and Henk said 'If you don’t sign him it will be the biggest mistake you make.' Henk is a good guy...
"I’ve pretty well won most of the big races in the States and I have always had a passion to race at the highest level. It has been a tough road as New Zealand doesn’t have a development set up like Australia, and racing in the States and Australia has been great for me. But I’m pretty much unproven in Europe and it could all go pear shaped, but I’ve just got that hunger to race, that hunger to perform. I can guarantee I will give it everything," Henderson added.
T-Mobile seemed like the perfect option for the Kiwi cyclist, not only because of its international renommée. "T-Mobile is a great team to join," he continued. "They are very professional and will help me make the transition from US racing to the cut and thrust of Europe. They also have a few English speaking guys which will make it a bit easier. I'm also looking forward to racing with Mick Rogers. I don’t know Mick that well but I admire him a lot and it will be great to ride with him.
"I just want to see how far I can go. I have made it to world champion on the track, now I want to see if I can make it in the biggest scene of all on the road in Europe. I’ll just take it nice and slow. I would love to ride the classics and a grand tour, and of course I’ve dreamed of riding the Tour de France. But it might not happen in my first year," he concluded.