Sergio Henao to lead Team Sky's Vuelta challenge
OPQS-bound Uran among supporting cast... as is Luke Rowe, making his Grand Tour debut
Sergio Henao will lead Team Sky’s overall challenge in the Vuelta a España when the three-week race starts in Galicia this Saturday. The Colombian will be supported by riders including Giro d’Italia runner-up Rigoberto Uran, and second-year pro Luke Rowe, the only British rider in the line-up, making his Grand Tour debut.
Also featuring in the line-up are Edvald Boasson Hagen, Vasil Kiryienka, Christian Knees, Salvatore Puccio, Xabier Zandio and Dario Cataldo.
The latter won a stage in last year’s race when he was riding with Omega Pharma-Quick Step – the same team Uran will be heading to at the end of this season.
It’s the fourth time Team Sky has ridden the Vuelta, its debut in 2010 overshadowed by the death of carer Txema Gonzales which resulted in the riders, several of whom had already been laid low by a virus, pulling out of the race as a mark of respect.
In 2011, Chris Froome finished second, and Bradley Wiggins third in a race won by Geox-TMC’s Juan Jose Cobo.
Many believe Froome, who had taken the race lead after the individual time trial midway through, would have won the Vuelta had he not been required to work for Wiggins the following day, his team mate taking over the race leader’s red jersey. Froome would lose the race by 13 seconds.
Last year, Sky had high hopes of Froome challenging for the overall win, but coming shortly after he had helped Wiggins win the Tour de France and in the face of a triple Spanish challenge from eventual winner Alberto Contador, riding his first Grand Tour after his doping ban, plus Alejandro Valverde and Joaquin Rodriguez, the Briton finished fifth.
Reflecting on the composition of this year’s line-up, team principal Sir Dave Brailsford said: “It’s a testament to the strength and depth in this team that we can line up in all three Grand Tours this year with such strong squads.
“We’ve watched Sergio develop since he joined the team and this is a great opportunity for him to demonstrate what he is capable of on a big stage like the Vuelta.
“We have selected a squad for all eventualities out on the road and we’re excited to get started and to try to build on our success this season.”
Henao, 14th overall in last year’s race and a top 10 finisher in the Giro d’Italia earlier in 2012, added: “The Vuelta is a huge race for me and an important and prestigious event.
“It is an honour to be picked as the team leader and it’s a responsibility that I want to try and fulfill. I respect what the team has asked of me and I want to try and make the most out of the opportunity.
“The Vuelta is always a hard race and it’s getting tougher every year. There are a lot of great riders targeting the race this season and the racing is going to be at a really high level.”
The full line-up, together with brief biographies provided by Team Sky, is:
Colombia – age 25
Henao has been a revelation since bursting onto the European scene in 2012 and deserves his newfound status as team leader. The Colombian claimed a top-10 finish in his first-ever Grand Tour at last year’s Giro d’Italia, and also enjoyed a spell in the coveted white jersey. This season he has already claimed stage victories on mountain-top finishes at the Volta ao Algarve and Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and his explosive climbing ability marks him out as one of the sport’s most exciting talents.
Edvald Boasson Hagen
Norway – age 26
The Norwegian all-rounder is back to full fitness after fracturing his right scapula at this summer’s Tour de France. It will be the first time Edvald has taken part in the Vuelta and he will be looking to join an elite group of riders who have won stages in all three Grand Tours following his successes at the Giro d’Italia in 2009 and Tour de France in 2011.
Italy – age 28
Cataldo will be making his 10th Grand Tour appearance at this year’s Vuelta and his all-round capabilities will be of huge benefit to the squad. The Italian has happy memories of this race, having claimed a notable victory on the queen stage of last year’s edition on the steep ramps of the Cuitu Negru climb.
Belarus – age 32
Since joining Team Sky at the start of the season, Vasil Kiryienka has consolidated his reputation as one of the world’s best domestiques. The Belarusian’s power, consistency and machine-like riding style has already helped Team Sky to six race wins in 2013, and the 32 year old is more than capable of competing for stage victories himself, should the opportunity arise.
Germany – age 32
Knees is one of Team Sky’s most experienced riders and will be making his 12th Grand Tour appearance at this year’s Vuelta. The former German champion was an integral part of Team Sky’s Tour de France-winning team in 2012 and helped Rigoberto Uran to second place overall at this season’s Giro d’Italia.
Italy – age 23
Puccio hit the headlines in May when he took the race leader’s jersey at the Giro d’Italia, and after a spell in the maglia rosa, he resumed his selfless support of his team-mates. The young Italian has a bright future ahead of him and will be a vital cog in Team Sky’s Vuelta a Espana machine.
United Kingdom – age 23
Rowe has enjoyed a seamless transition since turning professional at the start of 2012 and has been rewarded with this – his debut Grand Tour ride. The Welshman sealed his first stage victory at the Tour of Britain last season and will be looking to continue his progression during the three weeks of action.
Colombia – age 26
Uran’s second-placed finish at the Giro d’Italia marked him out as one of the world’s best Grand Tour riders and his stage victory on the summit of the Altopiano del Montasio also demonstrated his phenomenal climbing talent. Uran will be riding in support of Henao this time around, but is more than capable of challenging for top honours again, should the need arise.
Spain – age 36
Zandio is Team Sky’s most experienced Grand Tour rider with 14 appearances already under his belt. The Spaniard is one of the strongest and most reliable domestiques in the sport, and his tactical knowledge and solid climbing abilities make him a valuable asset to any Grand Tour team.