Glasgow will be the fourth Commonwealth Games for Greg. He has competed at the 1998 games in Kuala Lumpur, placing 3rd; at the 2002 games in Manchester, placing 1st; and at the 2006 games in Melbourne, placing 10th overall in track and 6th for the road event.
In any previous era, Greg Henderson would have been New Zealand cycling’s Golden Boy, but he competed at the same time as the Golden Girl, Sarah Ulmer, and raced partly in her shadow for much of his career.
Henderson, born in Dunedin in 1976, built a career anyone would be proud of. It included great feats on the track, including a world title and five appearances at the Olympics, as well as a long and varied career on the roads, including starts in the 2012 and 2013 Tour de France races. His first Olympics was in Atlanta in 1996, when he was just 19, and was studying towards his Bachelor of Physical Education degree at Otago University. He was part of the New Zealand men’s team pursuit team – along with Brendon Cameron, Tim Carswell and Julian Dean - that finished 8th. They shaded Germany for a qualifying spot, but were then comprehensively beaten by France in the quarter-finals. In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, he was again in the pursuit team, this time with Carswell, Lee Vertongen and Gary Anderson. This time they improved to 6th and qualified for the quarter-finals slightly more comfortably. France again eliminated them, though in a much tighter race. By 2004 in Athens, Henderson was a world champion. He rode in the madison, with Hayden Roulston, and the points race in Athens. Henderson and Roulston were competitive in the madison, finishing 7th of 18 starters. They were not lapped, but could not match the firepower of the Australians, Swiss and British, who dominated the race. In the gruelling points race, Henderson was outstanding. He finished 4th with 68 points. The gold medallist, Mikhail Ignatiev, totalled 93 points and put four laps on the field. Behind him, four riders gained three laps, including Henderson. In the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, he again rode the madison, with Roulston, and the points race. In the madison, the New Zealanders did not really fire, finishing 10th. He finished 10th of 23 starters in the points race, unable to latch on to any of the breakaways and put a lap on the field. By the time of the 2012 London Olympics, Henderson was nearly 36, and was regarded as a road specialist. He competed in the road race in London, and did not finish, though he assisted team-mate Jack Bauer, who finished an impressive 10th. Bauer and Henderson had claimed the two road spots ahead of Julian Dean and Roulston.
Henderson was nearly as busy at the Commonwealth Games, where he often showed his class. At Kuala Lumpur in 1998, he was 13th in the scratch race and earned bronze medals in the points race and the team pursuit (with Vertongen, Carswell and Cameron). He didn’t get as much kudos as he might have for his bronze because the gold and the glory went to team-mate Glen Thomson in the points race, and to Sarah Ulmer, who won the women’s individual pursuit.
Henderson made no mistake at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games. He struck gold in the points race, heading off Mark Renshaw and Chris Newton. His gold owed much to the gutsy work of his team-mate Vertongen. Henderson was also part of the team pursuit squad, along with Vertongen, Roulston and Matthew Randall, that took the bronze behind the crack Australian and English combinations. Henderson rounded off a fine campaign with a 6th placing in the scratch race. In Melbourne in 2006, Henderson was unable to get among the medals, finishing 14th in the points race and 10th in the scratch race. Much more impressive, however, was his 6thplacing in the road race after 4h 5min of hard slog.
Henderson was selected for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010 but was a late withdrawal. He was worried about health and security issues and eventually elected not to travel to India. By then he was married to Australian cycling champion Katie Mactier and they had a child and he cited family reasons as an over-riding concern.
The Otago man was always a solid performer at world champs, but his standout performance was undoubtedly in Melbourne in 2004, when he won the scratch race from Dutchman Robert Slippens and Argentinian Walter Perez. Only a handful of New Zealanders have won world cycling titles, so Henderson was in special company. Besides his great day in Melbourne, he also picked up the silver in the madison (with Roulston) in 2003 and the silver in the scratch race in 2005 – great efforts.
Amazingly, that is only half the cycling story of Henderson, the New Zealand Track Cyclist of the year in 2002, 02 and 03. He won 17 New Zealand track and road titles. He turned more seriously to the road in 2004. From 2007-09, he rode for the T-Mobile team. By 2010-11 he was a key lead-out rider at Team Sky, before switching to Lotto-Belisol in 2012. With stage wins in the Tour of Spain, the Paris-Nice, Tour of Britain, Tour of Catalunya and Tour of California, he showed he was easily good enough to foot it with the tough professionals of road racing.
Lotto-Belisol nominated him to ride in its Tour de France team in 2012 and 2013. His principal job will be to act as Andre Greipel's lead-out man in the sprint stages, the same role Julian Dean performed with such distinction during his seven Tour de France rides. Henderson did a superb job and the German sprint specialist won several stages after sterling work by the New Zealander. By the end of 2013, Henderson, 37, was still riding well, but was starting to get involved in coaching, including mentoring Southland's Tom Scully and Australian Jack Bobridge.