We catch up with Greg Henderson to get his thoughts on the victory of André Greipel and a quick appraisal of the injury he sustained in stage four. He said after his crash that he “now knows what a kneecap without skin looks like”. That said, he’s already put his hand up for Commonwealth Games selection…
On the approach to Lille at the end of stage four on Tuesday, the Lotto-Belisol team had put its lead-out train on the rails. In the right circumstances, the sequence never deviates as Adam Hansen explained at the team presentation. The order of delivery is tried and tested and often successful but in the Tour de France of 2014, it has had several setbacks. A nasty crash for Greg Henderson on the exit of a roundabout put a spanner in the works. The New Zealander would slice his knee open and abandon the race. In the current issue of RIDE, we feature a story about knee injuries and how they can be common for cyclists… and, according to the Kiwi, this is exactly the reason his crash earned him a trip to hospital and an appointment with a surgeon.
“I’ve had a total of three surgeries on this knee but before this the wound has never gone down into the joint – it’s always been superficial,” Henderson explained. “That’s the reason it blew open the other day, there’s still fresh scar tissue from the last surgery.
“Had it have been a normal knee it would have likely been like the grazes I’ve got on my elbow but unfortunately it was weak tissue and it just split open like a watermelon.”
The 37-year-old was the third rider to exit the 101st Tour. But already he knows the surgery was a success and that he can start riding his bike again as early as next week.
They fall, and they get up again… and they race because they love it. It’s a strange place this cycling world.
Injuries are commonplace and we’ve seen that again as the medical report for stage six is delivered two hours after Henderson’s team-mate André Greipel gave Germany its fourth win of the Tour this year, but the first for Lotto-Belisol. The wet stage included numerous accidents and concluded with three DNFs: Xabier Zandio of Sky, Ego Silin of Katusha, and Jesus Hernandez of Tinkoff-Saxo… and 14 men consulted the race doctor with one injury or another.
Skin heals. Broken bones mend. And enthusiasm remains, as Greg Henderson confirmed when he talked about how he saw the stage from Arras to Reims two days after his surgery. “I was just waiting on a plane at Brussels airport,” he said over the phone when asked how he’d seen the race. “I’m done with the doctors and ready to go home but I knew the race was on so I had to see how it ended.
“I went to the bar and said to the guy pouring beers, ‘Mate, can we just turn the Tour on?’ He switched it on and there was just two kilometres to go. I started putting my hands up with about one kilometre to go; I was like, ‘Oh righto, we’ve won this one – perfect!’”
“It’s tough,” he said when I asked how difficult it was to watch a victory unfold without being part of the action. “But my initial reaction was on display in the airport. I was so happy. I couldn’t get the smile off my face. But then, of course, I started thinking how I wish I was there doing something to help. There’s always going to be that line of thought; even when [Jurgen] van den Broeck climbs a mountain, I’m just wishing I was there to put him at the base of the climb.
“My reaction, even when watching from a distance, was sheer joy. I had my arms in the air while standing at the bar,” laughed Henderson.
“From one kilometre out I was sure that we had won it. Everyone was looking at me thinking, ‘Who the hell is this guy? What is he going on about?!’”
And, once he stopped cheering he started to consider what was going to happen in the other stages that are suited to the sprinters.
“I loved it,” he said about watching the victory. “To see the attitude of Greipel is great. He’s such a stubborn bastard – he just won’t give up! He got beaten once, beaten again… and then he comes along and wins it by three bike lengths.
“Him and Kittel are the fastest by far and now that he’s got the confidence I think I’ll be a different show from now on.”
The lead-out sequence may have been interrupted after the Kiwi was forced out of the race but success would come for the team.
“Today it looked like a free-for-all. I don’t know what happened,” Henderson laughed when considering the chaos of the final two kilometres. “Where did all the guys go? Normally, if it’s the perfect lead-out, Jurgen Roelandts will do my job but just start it a bit later. From what I saw when the television was turned on, it looked to me like Greipel was on his own but everyone was on their own. There was no Giant-Shimano, there was one Europcar, there was one guy from Katusha leading out [Alexander] Kristoff… it looked like it was on for young and old.
“It was nice to see Greipel fight a bit today. I saw him put some elbows in and he was on the rails. It was good to see that confidence back.”
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And so, what about the injury and the plans for the rest of the season? “Good news,” said Henderson, “the doctor is super happy. He is one of the specialists – a knee guru – and he came to see me this afternoon. He looked at it, shook my hand and said, ‘It’s good. It’s perfect!’ He said I can start riding again at the end of next week. He told me that I’m lucky that there’s no long-term damage.”
So, it was a setback but like the professional he is, Henderson is already thinking about his next race. Given the diagnosis, I asked, does it mean he will get to go to the Commonwealth Games that start in Glasgow on 23 July? “That’s why I had a check-up today,” he concluded. “If all was okay I’d make myself available for the national team. It’s now up to the selection committee, our coaches and the high performance unit to decide whether or not they need me. I think I’ll be in good condition – it might not be as good as I am now – but it’ll still be good.”
A victory in the Tour, it would seem, is for more than the winner alone. We’ll see Henderson back on his bike soon… just like the others who have sadly fallen, temporarily, by the wayside in the opening stages of the race.
– By Rob Arnold