By Kirsten Robbins in Gainesville, Georgia
After falling shy of a win the previous day's stage two field sprint, New Zealand sprinter Greg Henderson assured his fans he would claim a stage during the Tour de Georgia. Henderson, backed by his High Road teammates did not disappoint the stage three finishing crowd in Gainesville when his team entered onto the finishing circuits lined up front and delivered him to the line in a victory salute.
According to the race winner, his team took him safely around the finishing circuits and in good position to sprint over the final climb. His winning sprint time bonus also assured himself the race lead by nine seconds ahead of Tyler Farrar (Slipstream).
"Well, with Papa Georgio [George Hincapie] leading you out, you're too scared to fail," joked the new race leader Greg Henderson who felt his early track season helped in his seated sprint downhill to the line. "I was on his wheel for 30 kilometres yesterday and the last 15 kilometres today. He's great because he's so smooth. He never surges on the uphill and you can trust him to get you into exactly the right position on the circuits.
"Coming over the hill, George just nailed it and Greipel dived down inside of me in the last corner: It was a drag race between us to the line," continued Henderson, describing the final two 100 meters. "The sprint was deceiving because it actually ended at the top of the hill. Even though we were going downhill, I couldn't press any harder on the pedals and it's hard for people to pace you on a downhill. So the race was really to the top of the hill."
Henderson's teammate from Germany, Andre Greipel, took the lead out's final pull to the line and picked up second place on the day. According to Henderson in the post race press conference, Greipel is in equally good form, but that he earned the opportunity to be the chosen sprinter in Georgia based on his pre-season efforts.
"I've come off of some pretty good form at the moment and I sacrifice myself a lot for the team over in Europe, so they decided that it was time to give me a chance to win and so I am happy to be able to do that," said Henderson who recently helped his teammate Mark Cavendish win the Scheldeprijs-Vlaanderen in Belgium, placing seventh himself.
According to Henderson, having a victory in the Tour de Georgia is important with regards to the team's American license and affiliation with the country's cycling sponsorships and community. "It's always very important for Team High Road to win here in America because we are an American bike team," said Henderson, who had competed four years with the domestique Health Net squad before signing a contract with the former T-Mobile in 2006.
"It's important that we race strong and race well. Now, we have the stage win, we nearly had one yesterday and we have the yellow jersey and the sprint jersey, so things are going pretty good at the moment," continued Henderson. "I've raced in America, before I went to Europe for four years and I always get motivated when I come back here and race against the same guys I used to race with, catching up with old teammates, friends and not so friends in the peloton, it's good."
Winner of Philadelphia's formerly known USPro Championships in 2006, Henderson has his eyes set on a repeat victory later this season. "Philly is a really important race for our team and I'm on that schedule again, being a past winner there," said Henderson, who will be racing in the four days of Dunkerque and the Vuelta a Catalunya before travelling to Philadelphia.