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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta notebook: Henderson’s happy, Barredo’s bummed

Perhaps it’s no mistake that Greg Henderson’s biggest road win of his career comes in the Vuelta a España. Monday’s stage-3 sprint victory for the 32-year-old Henderson caps a breakthrough season that’s also included major victories on Spanish roads, at the Clásica de Almería, the Vuelta a Murcia and the Volta a Catalunya. Holland isn’t quite Spain, but it is still the Vuelta a España despite its popular start in Benelux.

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By Andrew Hood

Perhaps it’s no mistake that Greg Henderson’s biggest road win of his career comes in the Vuelta a España.

Monday’s stage-3 sprint victory for the 32-year-old Henderson caps a breakthrough season that’s also included major victories on Spanish roads, at the Clásica de Almería, the Vuelta a Murcia and the Volta a Catalunya.

Holland isn’t quite Spain, but it is still the Vuelta a España despite its popular start in Benelux.

“I am very happy to win today,” Henderson said. “Today was a very difficult finish. There were a lot of curves and we lost a few of our riders. We had to improvise a little bit. There was also a lot of headwind, so that made it easy for other teams to swarm our train. We have one of the best trains in the world. When we got it working right, we’re hard to beat.”

Henderson explained he was working to set up team captain André Greipel, but when he looked back with 200 meters to go, the big German sprinter had lost the wheel in a chaotic final rush to the line, opening the door for the opportunistic Kiwi.

The next question to Henderson from a Spanish journalist was simple: How come you’re from New Zealand and you don’t play rugby?

Not everyone born in New Zealand is obliged to play the island nation’s national sport, but Henderson was happy to explain his unique route to victory at the Spanish tour.

“I started racing as a wee kid with BMX. Then I raced a lot on the track. I was world champion (scratch in 2004) and then I raced on the road in the United States,” Henderson said. “Now I am in my third season here in Europe and I am getting better and better. I am very happy to win today.”

Success on the North American circuit captured the attention of High Road boss Bob Stapleton and Henderson joined the team in 2007. He was close to two stage wins at the 2007 Tour of California and popped for two victories in 2008 at the Tour de Georgia.

He’d never won in Europe until this year. He was one of the hottest sprinters in the spring, snatching three victories and then later slotting into his role as a lead-out man for team leaders Mark Cavendish and Greipel.

Columbia has proven lethal in the bunch sprints so far this season, with Cavendish winning 21 races and Greipel 15. The big German will get his turn, Henderson says.

“We’re fast! There’s no secret. We work well as a team. There are not a lot of big egos on the team,” he said. “We know each other well and we’re all champions and we’re all able to win races. Most of our wins come thanks to Cavendish and Greipel, but if you look down the list, there are a lot of other riders on this team winning as well.”

Not first Kiwi grand tour win

Many were wondering if Henderson’s victory was the first in grand tour history. It turns out that Paul Jesson won a stage in the 1980 Vuelta. Jesson raced two seasons in Europe, in 1979-80, and won the stage from Burgos to Santander to make Kiwi history to be the first New Zealand rider to win a stage in a grand tour.

Barredo’s bummer

Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) was the unlucky rider who crashed coming down the rain-slicked start ramp during the mid-race deluge in Saturday’s prologue in Assen.

A resident of northern Spain’s rainy Asturias region, Barredo is no stranger to wet roads. He was incensed that it took his potentially dangerous fall off the platform for officials to place a mat of artificial turf to give starting riders a better grip.

“I was lucky that I didn’t hurt myself,” Barredo told VeloNews. “My Vuelta could have been over for something stupid like that.”

A TV cameraman later disclosed that officials had previously put down the mat only to remove it when sponsors complained that it covered advertising slogans on the start ramp. The mat was quickly replaced after Barredo crashed.

Barredo — 92nd at 45 seconds back — says he has high ambitions for this Vuelta, but wonders if the lost time in the prologue will handicap his overall goals.

“I want to win a stage first and then we’ll worry about the overall,” Barredo said.

He finally earned a major win at the Clásica San Sebastián in early August, appropriately enough, in the rain.

Cuesta making history

Iñigo Cuesta is making history yet again at the Vuelta a España.

The 40-year-old Spanish gregario is adding one more year to the record he set last season for the most starts in the Vuelta. This year, he’s starting his 16th consecutive Vuelta.

“Yes, one more Vuelta,” Cuesta told VeloNews. “I still enjoy racing my bike, so right now I cannot find a good reason to stop.”

Cuesta is feeling so good that he’s already signed up to race the 2010 season with Cervélo, where he’s the ever-faithful lieutenant to Carlos Sastre.

Last year, Cuesta set the new Vuelta mark. Three riders — Txomin Perurena, Federico Etxabe and Eduardo Chozas — had started 14 Vueltas. Chozas and Etxabe hold the record of most Vueltas completed, with 13 each. Cuesta has “only” finished 11.

Follow Andrew Hood’s twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody