With three very hard mountain stages to come at the Giro d'Italia, Team Sky is in an interesting position with Colombian climbers Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran positioned eighth and eleventh overall, 1:55 and 2:56 back respectively behind leader Joaquim Rodriguez.
Henao, 24, is the revelation of the race so far and has been able to hold his own in the mountains against the overall GC contenders. "In the initial prologue, he lost some time," team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. "In the team time trial we went ok but not that great. Since then, Sergio hasn't lost time except on Rodriguez. But now we're in the third week when it all counts. But we don't put any pressure on him. His Giro is already a successful one. It's all about learning."
Team Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal is the link between the Colombians and the English speaking part of the team as he speaks fluent Spanish after his four seasons riding for Caisse d'Epargne (2006-2009). "Sergio impressed me at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco when he attacked on the big ring up to Ibardin, where only Samuel Sanchez and Rodriguez passed him," the Frenchman told Cyclingnews. "Here at the Giro, we got him to gain confidence by getting involved in the early minutes of the lead-out for Mark Cavendish."
"Three years ago we thought it was important to start looking for young talents, especially climbers, and not only in Britain," Brailsford said. "We did some research and sent [team coach] Rod [Ellingworth] to Colombia. We attracted Sergio because we were one of the first teams to make him an offer. Now there is a difference between a potential and the reality. We deliberately brought both Rigoberto and Sergio to the Giro because they could compete for the best young rider jersey. That was something we could be competitive for. On a long term, we don't know yet what Sergio can do but I don't see any reason why he can't come back one day and win this race."
"Sergio keeps his feet on the ground and he's well looked after by Rigoberto who's got experience in three-week races even though he's still young," Portal said. Uran, 25, wore the white jersey but eventually lost it to Pierre Rolland at last year's Tour de France. He remains eligible for the U26 category despite being in his seventh season as a pro in Europe. He turned pro with Italian team Tenax in 2006, moved to Unibet the following year and spent three seasons at Caisse d'Epargne (2008-2010) before joining Team Sky. Henao came directly to Sky from the Continental team Gobernacion de Antiquoia at the end of last year.
"For now, my goal is to ride at the front," Henao told Cyclingnews. "I want to finish in the top five of the Giro. If I keep going well in the mountains, I can keep up with the best climbers. The most explosive of them is Purito. He's got a lot of power in the climbs. Soon we'll know who is the strongest in this race."
Asked who is the next Colombian to win a Grand Tour, Uran predicted: "It might well be Henao! But it can also be Nairo Quintana." The winner of the 2010 Tour de l'Avenir recently came second at the Vuelta Communidad Madrid after winning the Tour of Murcia.