Colombian Henao captures prologue in Tour of Utah
Updated: August 09, 2011, 20:43
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PARK CITY, Utah (AP) Sergio Henao wasn't racing for a top-ranked team and was hardly a favorite in a country where he's never visited.
Yet the 23-year-old Colombian grabbed the yellow jersey, winning the nasty prologue of Tuesday's ramped-up Tour of Utah.
Henao led the field of 118 riders up a steep road that parallels the Olympic bobsled course.
He finished the 1.3-mile monster uphill in 4 minutes, 5 seconds, ahead of Spain's Francisco Mancebo (4:07), who won the Tour of Utah in 2009. Spain's Oscar Sevilla, Henao's teammate on Gobernacion De Antioquia, was third (4:10).
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer was sixth (4:12).
"It was a big surprise to us and other teams that we won,'' Henao said through an interpreter.
But Mancebo said it shouldn't have been.
"He's from Colombia,'' said Mancebo, who finished second in the Tour of Utah last year. "He won the Tour of Colombia; it's the hardest race in the world.''
Henao won the punishing Vuelta in 2010, which features 14 days of climbing, with 2,200 meters of vertical almost every day.
The climb in Park City only was 615 feet Tuesday.
"It was very short, but very explosive and it's a very difficult course, especially the last kilometer,'' Henao said.
"The wind and steepness at the top was hard to manage.''
The prologue provided a quick introduction to the six-day, 409-mile event billed as America's Toughest Stage Race. This year it was upgraded to a UCI 2.1-sanctioned stage race - one of only three in North America.
The goal now is to not only win the yellow jersey, but take the team prize for Colombia.
"It's important to stick together to control (Mancebo),'' said Sevilla, the only Spanish racer on Henao's Colombian team. "We feel like we have a good base ... and as long as we stick together we have a good chance.''
Next up is a grueling 116-mile assault up north Ogden Pass, a stage many racers feel could be a difference-maker because of steep climb - done three times in succession.
Racers who don't finish within 8 percent of the winning time will be dropped.
At this point plenty of racers can still win the Tour of Utah.
American Tejay Van Garderen finished just off the podium, about five seconds back of Henao. Thomas Danielson, who was ninth in the Tour de France, finished the prologue fifth in 4:12 and Garmin-Cervelo teammate Christian Vandevelde was seventh in 4:14.
David Zabriskie, who crashed out of the Tour de France just a month ago with a wrist and knee injury, returned to his native Utah, but could do no better than 66th on Tuesday (4:38).
Nobody could catch Henao, who had never been invited to race in the United States before.
"We're a modest team and we're in competition with really great teams like Garmin-Cervelo and Radio Shack. But we are here to put on a great show ... and fight until the last minute every day,'' Henao said.
The event closes Sunday with a mountaintop finish up Little Cottonwood Canyon at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.