As Sergio Henao (Sky) puts it, 2014 has been “a year to forget.”
Just when it seemed like the 26-year-old Colombian had put the worst behind him and was poised to start the Tour de France to help Chris Froome try to defend his yellow jersey, disaster struck to end his 2014 season just as it was getting started.
Those Tour plans are all in the dustbin for Henao, whose unplanned exit last week could open the door for Bradley Wiggins to fill the gap on Sky’s Tour Nine.
“It’s been a year to forget,” Henao said in an interview Monday. “It’s been a lost year, but you can learn a lot mentally that serves you later in life. All I can do is keep working hard. I have the motivation to return and the drive to be once again with the best.”
Henao had already missed much of the first half of the season due to questions about his blood levels linked to altitude. His return to competition at the Tour de Suisse was short-lived, however, when he crashed ahead of last Friday’s time trial.
Doctors confirmed Henao likely would not race again in 2014 following a brutal collision with a vehicle during course inspection Friday that left his kneecap splintered.
Henao said he was riding at 30kph ahead of the time trial, and thinking that the course was closed to traffic, when he sped directly into a car without realizing it was there.
“Well, I am upset and sad about how this year’s gone … but it could have been worse,” Henao continued. “The mechanics and directors who saw me from behind thought I was a goner after the impact.”
Henao said he would likely undergo surgery in Spain, with doctors in his European base of Pamplona, and recover there to begin rehabilitation before returning to Colombia.
Henao has only raced 15 days all season, and realizes the only thing he can do now is forget 2014 and build to return for next year.
“It’s been hard, something that no one would like to go through. I’ve been hit twice, first with the ‘stop’, and later with the injury,” he continued. “I passed all the tests and controls, and I was very happy to be racing again at Switzerland, and then this happened. … With the support of everyone, I will return to the top.”
Henao was forced to stop competition in March after inconsistent blood levels raised questions. Sky characterized Henao as an “altitude native,” and insisted he undergo addition testing to determine if his high-altitude upbringing at nearly 7,000 feet was wreaking havoc on his parameters.
“Our own understanding is limited by a lack of scientific research into ‘altitude natives’ such as Sergio,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford said in March. “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.”
Satisfied there was no foul play, Sky gave Henao the green light to return to competition in June.
Though initial results were encouraging, Henao’s return didn’t last long and his absence for the upcoming Tour could open the door for 2012 Tour champ Wiggins to earn a spot on Sky’s lineup.
Wiggins, however, has had his own problems, including an early exit from the Tour de Suisse in what was viewed as an important proving ground for the veteran British rider.
With Wiggins’ status still uncertain, there could be quite a fight within Sky to earn a spot for the Tour.
Joining Froome will be longtime sidekicks Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas, and Peter Kennaugh. Others likely to start include Mikel Nieve, Vasil Kiryienka, and Edvald Boasson Hagen. Also fighting for the final spots are Kanstantsin Siutsou and David Lopez.