Ask Sky’s Greg Henderson what he remembers about last year’s Paris-Roubaix, his first, and he won’t pull any punches with his answer.
“I remember being absolutely shit scared going into the Arenberg Forest, and I don’t think a lot has changed this year,” the Kiwi sprinter told VeloNews in Compiegne on Saturday. “We recon’ed the course three days ago, went through the forest, the same sector, and mate, I’m scared of it, just really scared of it. But I suppose it’s the same for everyone.”
A former world track champion whose recent wins include stages at the Vuelta a España, Paris-Nice and the Tour Down Under’s Cancer Council Helpline Classic, Henderson wasn’t originally slated for Sky’s classics squad. He was called up, however, when Norwegian Edvald Boassan Hagen was forced to withdraw due to tendinitis.
“My major focus this year was for grand tours, and stage wins in the sprints,” Henderson said. “I showed some good form in the early part of the season, and I’ve kept it rolling, and they could count on me to do my job properly. I’m happy to help out. It wasn’t in my program to start out, but I’m happy to be here. It’s a good race.”
Henderson’s role Sunday on the cobbles is straightforward: “protect (Juan Antonio) Flecha.”
“If a big break goes, say 10, 12 riders, we have to be represented, and I’m happy to be there as well,” Henderson said. “But pretty much keep Flecha out of the wind until I can’t any more. If you look at his results, he’s been so consistent. He’s done everything but win it.”
Because of his finishing speed, Henderson is always a threat in a breakaway. And he learned firsthand last year that a spot in the breakaway is a good place for a rider who has reservations about the cobblestones.
“It was a good spot for me,” Henderson said. “Two of my good friends, Servais Knaven and Andreas Klier, two of the most experienced pavé riders, were in the break, and they were giving me tips the whole day. It was pretty cool. I’m not going to use as much energy as I did last year to get into the break, but if it happens, sure, I’ll have a go getting across to it.”
Asked how important it is to finish a race like Roubaix once a rider’s domestique duties are done, Henderson described his experience in 2009, riding for Columbia-HTC, as a “beautiful feeling.”
“I was in the break, then George came and missed the critical split, I back up to George’s group and drove at the front for as long as I could until 25km to go, and when George couldn’t quite catch the front, I was just happy to roll into the velodrome,” he said. “It was a great feeling to finish 260km completely and utterly annihilated.”