WARNING: this isn’t going to be as good as Albertina’s writeup.
Sergio Henao, nicknamed ‘El venao’ (the deer) was born in december 1987. Yes that was the time when ‘Always on my mind’ by Pet Shop Boys, George Harrisons ‘Got my mind set on you’ and ‘Fairy tale of New York’ (Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl) dominated the charts. Not to mention ‘Heaven is a place on earth’ by Belinda Carlisle! Feel free to consult Youtube while reading further.
1987 was also the year when Lucho Herrera won the Vuelta a Espana and the polka dot jerseys in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta. Herrera was probably the best of the Colombian climbers who dominated the mountains in the 1980s and the only Colombian ever to win a grand tour. In the year he lived his ‘moment de gloire’, Sergio Henao was born. And he just might be Herrera’s successor.
Henao was born and raised in the small town of Rionegro in the Colombian Department of Antioquia . Wikipedia claims that 80% of Antioquia’s territory is mountainous, so it’s no surprise young Henao developed into a good climber.
The Junior years
Henao first demonstrated his talents in 2005, when he won two stages at the Colombian Junior Vuelta del Porvenir and finished second overall behind Rigoberto Uran Uran. He was only 17 years old at that time and also scored a second place overall in the Vuelta Juvenil de Venezuela.
In 2006 he stacked up podiums in GCs of stage races. Highlights were the win in the Clásica Norte de Santander and an impressive 5th place in the Clásico RCN, one of Colombia’s most prestigious stage races. He also had some nice placings outside of Colombia in the Vuelta de Higuito (Costa Rica) and in the Vuelta al Ecuador.
For the 2007 season, Henao joined the ranks of the Colombia es Passion team. This meant he got to ride more races in Europe.
At the Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid (2.2), he caught the attention of the European teams by riding in the top ten for four days, eventually finishing 15th overall. He also won two stages and the final GC in the Venezuelan Clasico Banfoandes (2.2) and another stage in the Vuelta Gobernacion Norte de Santander where he finished second overall. His impressive streak went on in his hometown race: the Vuelta a Antioquia. The 20-year old Henao won a stage and finished third in the GC. He had a solid season and performed well in most stage races where he took part. To finish his season, he finished third in the Colombian TT championship U23. Not a bad result at all, but TTing is not his forte. His wins and placings are a result of his climbing capacities.
2008 was less successful for Henao. His best race of the season was the Vuelta a Colombia Sub-23 (COL) where he won two stages and the GC. He also managed to finish second overall in the Vuelta al Valle and third the Clásica de Anapoima. But he was less consistent than the year before.
The next season, 2009, Sergio Henao got to ride more races outside of Colombia and did really well. In March he rode the Grand Prix du Portugal (2 NC), in which he won the Felgueiras stage on a challenging hill arrival ahead of Rasmus Guldhammer. As a result of this win, he managed to win the overall too, beating Ricardo Vilela (2), Rasmus Guldhammer (3), Romain Hardy (6) and Jan Tratnik (10) amongst others.
The Deer, who had legs of fire, went on to win the Cinturon a Mallorca (2.2). He outsprinted the complete field on the ‘Coll de Sa Creu’ and also finished second in another stage -- enough to take the overall GC. In June he contested the Canadian Coupe des Nations Ville Saguenay (2.HC) where he won the third stage, beating again Romain Hardy and Rasmus Guldhammer. This result lead him to a third place overall. The tour was won by Johan Le Bon. Other well-known names in the top-10 were Marko Kump (4) and Gatis Smukulis (5).
Next was the Canadian Tour de Beauce (2.2). In the mountainous third stage, he rode away with fellow countryman and teammate John Darwin Atapuma, who took the win. Henao finished second in the same time and the rest of the peloton followed 1’ 19" later. Unfortunately ‘El Venao’ lost 1.42 in a 20km time trial that was dominated by Scott Zwizanski (1), Phillip Zajicek (2) and Jesse Sergent (3). This TT ruined his chances for a good GC. Nonetheless young Sergio Henao made a strong impression… again. He rode very consistently all year long, racking up wins and top-10 placings both in South America, Europe and Canada. In 2009 he showed the world he has the potential to become a great stage racer.
…and back to South America
I don’t know why, but in 2010, Sergio Henao rode for the smaller Indeportes Antioquia - IDEA - FLA - Lotería de Medellín team. This also meant he mainly got to ride South American races. His fifth place in the Vuelta a Guatemala GC, after finishing in the top-10 in every stage, was not his most impressive result. Nor was his second place in the Clásico RCN overall.
What really stood out was winning the GC along with two stages and the TTT in the Vuelta a Colombia. For most of us, this is an unknown race, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy race. Due to the mountainous nature of the terrain, this 15-day race features far more and longer climbs than any Tour, Giro or Vuelta.
Both the Clásico RCN and the Vuelta A Colombia are hard enough that they were common races for Euro pros to do in the 80s as preparation for the Tour. Hinault, Fignon, Millar, they all raced both races, and often they considered them some of the toughest races of the year. As Bernard Hinault described it: "[It] is terrifying," he said. "Every day you’re in the mountains, climbing to unbelievable altitudes. It was a difficult race and we never stopped climbing. The landscapes are enough to make you dizzy." Hinault won the final time trial that year, held at an altitude of 2,600m…
For many South American riders the Vuelta a Colombia is the highpoint of the year. Most teams send their strongest squads and the race draws enormous attention in Colombia. The fact that Henao won the race at the age of 23 drove Colombian cycling fans completely crazy.
This season, the Deer has joined the ranks of Gobernacion De Antioquia - Indeportes Antiquia 2011. He already finished second overall in the Clásica Rionegro con Futuro-Aguas de Rionegro, won the prologue in the Vuelta al Valle del Cauca on the Cali Velodrom. He dominated and won the second stage of the GP Internacional de Café, Pijao (COL), finishing third overall and took the second place of the Vuelta al Tolima (COL) GC.
The Sky is the
A couple of months ago, Henao’s agent announced the Deer is very close to signing with Team Sky for the 2012 season. Sky wants him to ride alongside Rigoberto Uran Uran. Nothing has been signed yet. "I will make 2011 the last year with a proud country and now I think I have other goals," Henao said. "I think the cycle is completed in Colombia."
Colombians see Sergio Henao as a future Grand Tour winner. It’s hard to predict if he’ll ever become that good. With 1.70m and a weight of about 59kg , he’ll probably develop into a good climber, but right now his TT skills are far from good enough.
And the guy may surprise us in other ways too. If his shoulders are not strong enough to carry the hope of the nation or he simply lacks the talent to win Grand Tours, he can always develop into a cobbles stud: "Entre mis objetivos profesionales esta ser pódium en las tres carreras más importantes del mundo y ganar la Paris Roubeaux" (sic).