Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Henao Smashes Utah Prologue

By: Laura Weislo

Little known Colombian surprises favorites
Sergio Luis Henao (Gobernacion de Antioquia - Indeportes Antioquia) charges up the uphill prologue time trial in Park City

Twenty-three-year-old Sergio Luis Henao Montoya handed the Colombian Gobernacion de Antioquia - Indeportes Antioquia team its first victory in the USA, taking a convincing victory in the 2km Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah prologue in Park City.

The little known Colombian rider and his more famous teammate Oscar Sevilla were placed first and second until's Francisco Mancebo slotted in second place, giving the Tour of Utah its first all-international stage podium.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the wind-swept mountains baking under the summer sun favored riders who are familiar with such conditions: riders from Colombia, Spain, Colorado, Montana and Utah all featured in the top positions.

It was the young Colombian who stunned the crowd with his dominating performance, having not been tipped as a race favorite before the start. Henao, who hails from Rionegro near Medellin, won the 2010 Vuelta Colombia and the Grand Prix du Portugal and Cinturon a Mallorca in 2009, but though he's finished second in the Tour de Beauce in Canada, it is his first appearance on US soil.

"I am very happy to be here and have the leader's jersey after the first stage," Henao said. "There are a lot of good teams here like RadioShack, Garmin, HTC and others. We are a modest team and in competition with other really good teams. We are here to do a great show for the people and fight until the last minute every day."

Henao fought until the very last second in the prologue, where the hardest part of the stage came at the end, according to most reports.

"The race was very short and explosive," Henao said. "I had to be very strong and you had to have a lot of strength. It was a difficult course in the last kilometre. The steepness and the wind at the top was hard to manage."

With Sevilla, Henao and climber Javier Acevedo, the Gobernacion de Antioquia team has plenty of options to keep the race leadership within their team in the coming days.

"Wearing the yellow jersey into the first stage, we have to be patient because there are strong teams here. There are a lot of stages in the mountains. We have to play day-by-day and we have to go by a plan each day. I think it was a big surprise for me and for other teams that I won," Henao said.

Mancebo, the leader of the winner of the Redlands Classic, Tour of the Gila, Tour de Beauce and Cascade Classic, was happy to have only lost a small amount of time.

"It was important today to feel the sensations and not lose too much time," Mancebo said. "I had a very good time trial and it was good for my head. I did a good rehearsal and I feel like I am in good condition. I wasn't able to win but I had a good time trial."

The winner of the 2009 Tour of Utah and a runner-up last year, Mancebo is realistic about his chance at a second victory, given the increased level of competition now that the race is a UCI 2.1.

"This year it is much more difficult with stronger teams and riders. We have to be in our best condition to compete. The last stage will be important and the level and experience of people here is much higher so that will make it more difficult to win. I have to take it day-by-day."

Sevilla joked that he and his teammates, five of which featured in the top 25 on the stage, would need all of their forces to control Mancebo, but more seriously, he acknowledged that the increased level of competition would make racing both harder and easier in some respects.

"Our team is good with strong riders. There are three of us Haeao, me and Avarero. the three of us need to stick together to control Mancbeo. If we stick together I think we can do well," Sevilla said.

"The competition has risen, there are bigger teams and more people to control the race. It makes for a good race."

Top Americans toppled

Until Henao crossed the line, the leader board was topped by the usual suspects: Tom Danielson and his Garmin-Cervélo teammate Christian Vande Velde were sitting first and second, with Danielson clocking a 4:12, two seconds better than Vande Velde. The pair of Americans had unseated early race leader Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home), who set the early best time with 4:16.23.

Before Henao, the next rider to challenge was Endura Racing's Jack Bauer, who came in one second behind Vande Velde.

Starting his race as Danielson crossed the line, Henao, the winner of the 2010 Vuelta Colombia, did the unthinkable on the short, uphill course in the Utah Olympic Park - he caught and passed the rider who started one minute ahead of him en route to a winning time of 4:05.

With 16 riders still to go, including favorites Sevilla, Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad), Mancebo, US time trial champion David Zabriskie and defending champion Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), it was not certain Henao would last as fastest rider.

But one by one, they came and failed to unseat the Colombian dynamo. Sevilla came in with a 4:10, before Mancebo came in four minutes later with a time three seconds faster to take second on the day. Leipheimer, the last rider to start, could only muster a 4:12, good for sixth on the day.

"I expected to be better," Leipheimer said. "I should have done a bit better warm up. When I tried to step on it at the top my legs just weren't firing. It's been two weeks since I've done an effort like that. The guys who did the Tour have a really deep fitness but sometimes you give up all that endurance and recovery for explosivity like today."

Henao will wear the yellow jersey of race leader in tomorrow's first full stage, a challenging 187km circuit that takes in the difficult North Ogden Pass three times for a total of 8250 feet of climbing.

Wren held on as best Utah rider, while Van Garderen claimed the best young rider's jersey, coming in fractions of a second behind Sevilla in fourth place.

"I've been targeting this week for a long time," said Wren. "I didn't necessarily expect to win, but seeing some big names behind me is exciting. I'm happy to end up in the top 10 and in the Utah jersey. It's given me confidence to do well later in the week.

"I saw the course last week and I was confident. It's kind of my specialty - short, uphill prologues. I'm excited to have a good week with the team, they're all riding well."

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