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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Sprint competition leader, Greg Henderson (Degani)
New Zealander set for his 12th professional season
Beginning your season on January 1 can result in a precarious juggling act between the need for intensity and measuring that same fervour when a long season in Europe beckons. Lotto Belisol's Greg Henderson wouldn't have it any other way heading into his 12th season as a professional.
Henderson took on the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic from New Year's Day before racing the Jayco Herald Sun Tour which has proved additionally challenging due to a heat wave which struck Victoria in recent days.
"It's quite a fine balance at the end of the day," the 36-year-old Henderson admitted. "Doing the Bay Crits, okay, they're only an hour but you try and ride them as easy as possible but they're not easy, are they? Straight into prologue and then straight into 45 degrees yesterday [stage 1], so you've got to be careful because you can absolutely cook it and then it can be hard to recover from a hit out like that.
"I'm lucky I'm old enough, I know my body... Maybe it sounds selfish but genuinely I have to be careful because you can do yourself quite a bit of damage and it's a bloody long season."
The addition of Henderson to the Lotto Belisol sprint train went a long way towards helping André Greipel secure 19 victories in 2012, something that was evident from the first WorldTour event of the season, the Tour Down Under. The majority of the sprint train had ridden together at the Highroad set-up, and that familiarity proved to be a winning formula. Henderson said that with that fact in mind, it was important for the team to revisit some of the basics to ensure that success continues.
"What happened at the end of the year was that we got to know each other so well that the team meetings were becoming shorter and shorter," he explained to Cyclingnews. "We need to start talking again - this is your job, this is where you finish, this is where you start. Just to get it back in the brain that this is really important that that's where you're finish line is."
Following the Sun Tour, Henderson will head back to his native New Zealand to race the national road championships next week before returning to Australia to prepare for the Tour Down Under, where Greipel will be in line for his third overall victory and the Kiwi plans to be "bombing". Lotto Belisol will have "three or four days" of preparation together before the event gets underway on January 20 with the traditional warm-up criterium. It's not a lot of time when you consider that Henderson was absent from the recent training camp and it's now been several months since the combination raced together, but he says that it's all the time that's required.
"It's more of an experience thing," Henderson suggested. "I've done it that many times. I'm getting old now obviously. I actually remember telling them [last year] who they'd be racing down the back straight from Sky. I knew Sieberg would be racing Geraint Thomas down the back straight, and I said to him 'you have to be first into the corner.' And he did. Greipel won it by four bike lengths."
With any luck, the team's success should run into 2014 and Lotto Belisol management are already discussing a contract extension with Henderson beyond the end of this current season.
"If people start poaching from our lead out train then they'd have to juggle it all around again," he said. "Marc Sergent's not stupid. If he can keep us together and keep us happy, which we are, why not?"