Sergio Henao will head Team Sky’s charge in his homeland at the inaugural Colombia Oro y Paz (6-11 February).
The Colombian heads a lineup including fellow countrymen Sebastian Henao and Egan Bernal for the new six-day stage race, which will see Team Sky race in Colombia for the first time ever. Debutant Jonathan Castroviejo, Tao Geoghegan Hart and David Lopez complete the six-man squad.
Oro y Paz comes hot on the heels of the Colombian national road championships, where Sergio will be hoping to defend his road race jersey on 4 February in Medellin.
It’s a new venture for Team Sky and Sport Director Nicolas Portal, who will lead the team in Colombia, explained how the plan came together: “Everything combined really well. The Colombian national championships are just before the race and obviously we have three Colombians now, so we want to support them.
“We are out in Colombia early for a Camp. Then we’ll all go and support the Colombians for their national championships before we fly to Cali for the race.”
Sergio believes it will be ‘something special’ to race in Team Sky colours on home turf.
He said: “It’s such a good thing to have Team Sky here and for us it’s something special to come back home. It allows people to get closer and better know the three Colombian riders in the team.
“It means a lot for Colombia to have a 2.1 level stage race with the presence of a team such as Sky and I think the race will grow in the future.”
Sebastian echoed his cousin’s comments: “I’m very happy that Team Sky will be racing in Colombia for the first time. People will love it because the team has lots of fans in Colombia. I’m so happy that we will be racing in our country.”
Cycling is one of the biggest sports in Colombia and Portal is expecting the atmosphere around the race to be memorable.
“It will be an all new experience,” he continued. “We are all excited. It is one of the heartlands of cycling. With this generation of Colombian riders like Sergio, Egan, Rigoberto [Uran], [Nairo] Quintana, there is a massive amount of fans. They love cycling. It is going to be something special.
“When we are at the Tour de France you see all the Colombian fans every day. It’s nuts! They are smiling, they enjoy it - they are pure fans. We expect something special in their country.”
Introducing the team for Oro y Paz, Portal added: “Sergio is looking good. He wants to defend his national jersey, and he will be our number one.
“Then there is Egan, who has the Tour Down Under in his legs and is already going well. So we’ve got two leaders, really. We will support Sergio and Egan will be able to back him up.
“We also have Sebastian, who is always good on the climbs, along with David, Jonathan and Tao – we have a really good group.
“I expect it’s not going to be like a race in Europe where you can control all day. We need to be clever – we only have six guys, so it’s pretty interesting. This is where Tao, David, Sebastian and Jonathan can maybe take some time on an early stage or halfway through a stage where there’s an attack, they can tactically mark some other big teams. We need to be smart, and only try to control the bunch when it’s needed.”
The race itself kicks off with three sprint days, before the climbing action begins.
“There’s a little bit of everything – it’s a good way to start the season,” explained Portal. “The first three days are flat and then the last three days all finish in the mountains. They are not super hard, but all of them are proper summit finishes. The race starts at 1,000m then there are some really long climbs - 20 or 30 kilometres. It’s not crazy, but they really are long, long climbs.
“The riders are all really excited about it and we’re looking forward to getting started.”