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SAINT-QUENTIN, France (VN) – Kiwi veteran Greg Henderson is making the most of his Tour de France debut at the ripe age of 35.
The Tour rookie has led out Lotto-Belisol teammates André Greipel to two consecutive stage victories at the Tour. For the former trackie and journeyman, a trip to the Tour was a long time coming.
“It’s taken me forever to get to the Tour. I feel like I deserve to be here,” Henderson told VeloNews. “We’ve done perfect lead-outs. It’s huge for us and I am so happy for André.”
Henderson has slotted in as the final man for Greipel in Lotto’s leadout train, which has emerged in the opening days of the Tour as the dominant team in the bunch sprints.
World champion Mark Cavendish (Sky) pipped the German powerhouse in stage 2, but Greipel has gotten it right two days in a row. Lotto was ecstatic with the victories and Henderson couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm.
“I told you we’d smash ‘em!” Henderson yelled to a Lotto teammate at the finish line. “He came up next to me with 20km to go, ‘go smash them, Hendo!’ This win is so good. This is as good as winning myself.”
Just like Tuesday, Greipel and Lotto did not contest the intermediate sprint on Wednesday. Instead, Greipel saved his legs for the finale in Saint-Quentin.
“Sagan’s got a big lead in the green jersey, but if we keep picking up wins, Greipel will be right there; then we can think about challenging for the intermediate sprints,” Henderson said. “Right now, we’re concentrating on our train. It just went perfect for us.”
Henderson is the last man for Greipel, a job that he enjoys after a long career as a track cyclist and a sprinter in his own right. American fans may remember him from his five years spent with the Health Net franchise from 2002-2006, and his wins at the Philadelphia Championship, and the Tours of California and Georgia.
“With 3km to go, everyone’s fighting for Greipel’s wheel. It’s going be a real shit fight back there,” he said. “I have used all of my years of experience on the track and on the road. When you have a big ‘Gorilla’ on your wheel, who pulls 2,000 watts, it’s a little easier.”
Sky riding to protect Wiggins
The black kits and yellow helmets of Mark Cavendish’s Sky teammates surged to the front of the bunch late in Thursday’s stage, but it wasn’t necessarily for the world champion.
While Cavendish looked to be beneficiary of the push, the team was also looking to protect Bradley Wiggins in the face a string of crashes over the past few days.
Sky is hoping to keep Wiggins out of trouble through the first week, and part of that game is positioning him in the potentially dangerous “flat” stages that punctuate the Tour’s first week.
“The game plan is stay safe, stay out of trouble,” said Sky sport director Sean Yates. “If you’re not in the right place, or in the wrong place at the wrong time; then everything can be lost in one moment.”
Sky has been walking on eggshells all week, hoping that Wiggins can get past the hazards of the first week to emerge well positioned for a run at the yellow jersey in the decisive second half of the Tour. Last year, Wiggins crashed out with a broken clavicle in the first week, something the team is obviously desperately trying to avoid.
“Bradley had bad luck last year,” Yates said. “We want to avoid a repeat of that at all costs. You never know; you’re on a knife’s edge all the time.”
Stage winner: André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won his second stage in a row, good for his third career Tour win.
Yellow jersey: Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) defended up the rising finale to keep the maillot jaune.
Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) kept the green, but missed out on the finish line points. With third in the stage, Matt Goss (GreenEdge-Orica) moved within 18 points.
Polka dot jersey: Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) kept the climber’s jersey on a day with no rated climbs.
White jersey: Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) held tough against Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) to finish in the main pack and keep the young rider’s jersey
Best team: Sky held the classification for another day.
The peloton: Kittel folds
German ace Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) finally succumbed to knee pain and a bad stomach to abandon his first Tour; 194 riders remain in the peloton.
DS Frans Massen (Rabobank) fined 200 CHF for not “following rules of the road” Art. 12.0.040.25
Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), small cut to the shoulder
Rui Costa (Movistar), right knee pain
Bernhard Eisel (Sky), scrapes to his right side
Brice Feillu (Saur-Sojasun), chills
Crash at the finish line:
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), cuts and abrasions to right elbow, leg and back
Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), cuts to right side, back
Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Katusha), cuts to right wrist, X-rays planned (AFP reports a fractured scaphoid)
Weather forecast: Warmer temperatures
Fairer weather is on tap, with warmer temperatures in the mid-70s F, mostly sunny skies, gusting SW winds 20-30kph.
Tomorrow’s stage: Sprinter’s chance
The 99th Tour continues Friday with the 207.5km sixth stage from Épernay to Metz. The undulating stage features one Cat. 4 climb at a 145km; otherwise it’s a fast, rolling run into the finale. It’s the sprinter’s last chance ahead of the Vosges.