Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
PARK CITY — So much for home field advantage.
Not only did a 23-year-old Colombian win the Prologue of the Tour of Utah Tuesday, he was the only man to pass another rider during the two-kilometer climb at Utah Olympic Park.
In his first race in North America, Sergio Henao surprised even himself with a victory in the Tour of Utah's Prologue.
"It was a big surprise to us, and to other teams that I won," said Henao, who races with North America with Gobernacion de Antioquia.
He devoured the 18 percent grade in 4 minutes and five seconds. In second place was Spain's Francisco "Paco" Mancebo, who rides for Park City-based Realcyclist.com. He climbed the 617 feet in four minutes and seven seconds. Henao's teammate, Oscar Sevilla, who is from Spain, was third with a time of 4:10.
While Henao was surprised to earn the leader's yellow jersey on the first day, Sevilla and Mancebo were not.
"I'm not surprised," said Oscar with a shrug. "He's from Colombia. He won the Tour of Colombia, and it's the hardest race in the world."
While European races feature six or seven days of climbing, the Tour of Colombia offers a brutal 14 of 15 days with "steep mountain stages. Everyday," he said, "is up and down."
All of those on the podium Tuesday said they expect to do well because they all have experience climbing.
"I feel like I should do well because this is heavily a mountain stage race," said Sevilla. "As long as we stick together, we should do well."
Sevilla said he and his teammates won't change their strategy just because two of them managed to get on the podium in the Prologue.
"There are so many good riders, we'll have to stick together to control guys like Paco," he said smiling at Mancebo.
The best Utah rider was the defending Tour of Utah champion Levi Leipheimer, riding for RadioShack, with a time of 4:12. Other notable locals finished well on the first day. Tyler Wren, who rides for Jamis-Sutter Home finished ninth with a time of 4:16; Jeff Louder, BMC Racing, was 21st with a time of 4:23; David Zabriskie, Team Garmin-Cervelo, was 66th with a time of 4:38. Chase Pinkham, Bissell Pro Cycling, was 42nd at 4:31.
The riders said the combination of heat, altitude and incline made it a brutal way to open a tough stage race.
"It was very short, but very explosive," said Sevilla. "That last kilometer, I started to feel much worse."
Sevilla said he's never raced in North America because he was on a team that concentrated on European races. This was his first invitation to the Tour of Utah.
"It feels really good to be here, and good to have the leader's jersey in an important race like the Tour of Utah," Henao said. "We're a modest team in competition with some great teams, like Garmin, RadioShack. We're here in order to do a great competition and fight until the last minute every day."
Mancebo won the Tour of Utah in 2009, but he said repeating as champion will be much more difficult this year.
"It's much more difficult to win this year," he said. "There are more strong teams in this competition (because of the upgrade from an NRC race to a UCI race), experienced people competing here and it will be tougher to win. You will have to be in the best condition, especially in the final stages."
Wednesday's Stage I will begin at 11 a.m. in Ogden. It's a loop that riders navigate three times for a total of 112 miles — including three climbs up North Ogden Canyon. The finish will be at the Ogden City Municipal Building, between 25th and 26th streets on Washington Boulevard.
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