Team Sky's Sergio Henao currently off active roster for altitude tests says team hope he can race Tour de France
British team is investigating effects of being born and raised at altitude on Colombian rider following winter test results
Sergio Henao, taken off Team Sky’s active roster last month due to concerns over test results, says he is hopeful of making his Tour de France debut in this year's race: “It’s what both I and the team hope for,” he revealed. “Hopefully I can be in the best condition to make my case to be named in Sky’s line-up. We’ll see about that in the Tour de Suisse, but I am absolutely sure that I’ll be at a high level since I’m living every day with the hope of riding the Tour [de France].”
Last month Henao was taken off Sky's active roster and returned to his native Columbia with management saying it wanted to conduct further research into athletes born and raised at altitude, says he is hopeful of returning to racing at the Tour du Suisse in June and of racing the Tour de France the following month.
The 26-year-old, who was second in the 2013 Fleche Wallone and finished ninth overall in the previous year’s Giro d’Italia, is in Colombia along with his cousin Sebastian Henao, who joined Sky this season, and the team’s performance co-ordinator Oli Cookson.
The latter is the son of UCI president Brian Cookson, speaks Spanish fluently – he used to live in Madrid – and has worked for Team Sky since 2010, reports the website of the Colombian magazine, Revista Mundo Ciclístico.
He said that he accepted that the tests he is currently undergoing are “part of my job,” adding, “I’m training every day as if I were to compete immediately and I travel to [Colombia’s capital] Bogota twice a week to undergo tests at the Coldeportes laboratory with a view to furthering our understanding of the effects of altitude on athletes such as ourselves.”
Asked when he might return to racing in Europe, Henao said: “Assuming everything is in order once I’ve gone through this and I get the go-ahead to return to competition, I hope to be at the Tour de Suisse,” which takes place from 14-22 June.
Following that, he is hopeful of riding the Tour de France, which would be his debut in the race.
Speaking of Cookson’s presence in Colombia, he said: “He’s not here so much for the tests but more to learn to understand about our surroundings, our environment, how we live, and about the question of altitude – he trains with us each day.
“I think he is gaining a real impression of our region, Oriente Antioqueño, and I’m hope that the information he is getting might open the doors for the team to plan training camps in Colombia as it does on Tenerife.”
Henao added that Cookson was also there to assist with securing visas for himself for the Tour de France, which starts in Yorkshire in July, and his cousin for next month’s Giro d’Italia, which begins in Belfast a week on Friday.
When Sky stood Henao down from its active roster last month, team principal Sir Dave Brailsford said: "We have strong monitoring and compliance processes in this team, with the full co-operation of riders and coaches.
“In our latest monthly review, our experts had questions about Sergio’s out-of-competition control tests at altitude – tests introduced this winter by the anti-doping authorities. We need to understand these readings better.
“We contacted the relevant authorities – the UCI and CADF – pointed to these readings and asked whether they could give us any insights. We've also taken Sergio out of our race programme whilst we get a better understanding of these profiles and his physiology.
“We want to do the right thing and we want to be fair. It’s important not to jump to conclusions.
He added: “Sergio was raised in the mountains, goes back in winter and lives and trains at different levels. We’ve looked as far as we can at the effects of this, but our own understanding is limited by a lack of scientific research into ‘altitude natives’ such as Sergio.
“We are commissioning independent scientific research to better understand the effects of prolonged periods at altitude after returning from sea level, specifically on altitude natives.
“The independent experts are looking to use WADA-accredited laboratories and Team Sky will make the data and findings available to WADA, the UCI and CADF.
“Sergio will help with this programme and we expect him to be out of the race schedule for at least eight weeks. Once we have completed our assessment, we’ll decide on the right steps and give a full update.”
Speaking to Lionel Birnie for a Cycle Sport article in 2011, when his father was president of British Cycling and also on the board of Tour Racing Limited, Team Sky’s holding company, Cookson was at pains to point out that nepotism had nothing to do with his securing the position with the team.
“I just wanted to say I didn’t get this job because of my dad,” he said. “In fact, I nearly didn’t get the job because of who my dad is and how it might look.”