Quiet so far in California, Henao biding his time for Mt. Baldy

Sky’s Sergio Henao — perhaps the smallest rider in this peloton — aims to stand tallest on the podium when the race wraps up Sunday in Pasadena

SANTA CLARITA (VN) — While the first five stages of the Amgen Tour of California have belonged to Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, and Toms Skujins, the battle for overall supremacy is quietly bubbling under the surface, with an eye on Saturday’s queen stage and its summit finish on Mt. Baldy.

Though he’s raced quietly thus far, Sky’s Sergio Henao — perhaps the smallest rider in this peloton — aims to stand tallest on the podium when the race wraps up Sunday at the Rose Bowl, in Pasadena.

Henao hasn’t shown his face in the wind just yet, but he’s the rider that other GC contenders, such as Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) have cited as the big favorite to take top honors.

And with Friday’s time trial reduced from a flat 15-mile time trial in Big Bear Lake to a flat 6-mile time trial at Magic Mountain in Santa Clarita, the Baldy stage has taken on even more significance for the general classification. As it has every year that’s it’s been part of the Amgen Tour, the steep slopes of Mt. Baldy will decide the overall winner — and Henao is one of the best climbers at the race.

The 27-year-old Colombian recently finished seventh at both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and was second overall to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) at the Tour of the Basque Country in early April.

But that was several weeks ago, and the main question surrounding Henao is his current form — is he still in condition to win this race?

On Thursday outside of the Team Sky bus, the small, quiet rider told VeloNews that he is feeling good, and that he is, indeed, in California to race for overall victory.

“Saturday is the most important day for the GC, and I’m feeling strong. I think the win is possible. I’m here to try to win.”

Henao is no stranger to winning major stage races, though lately his career has been marked by close calls. He finished second overall at Pais Vasco this year and third overall at the same race last year. He’s been on the podium at the Tour of Utah, Vuelta Burgos, and Tour of Poland, but his last big overall win was the 2010 Vuelta a Colombia.

Asked to name which riders he considers the biggest threats to the overall on Baldy, Henao named 2012 winner Robert Gesink and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick-Step).

“I was good in Pais Vasco, at the Ardennes, “ he said. “I spent one week in Colombia, and then came to California. Now, the time trial is only 10km, so it’s very nice for me. Everything is all about Baldy now. The team is working for me here, and I’ll try to win it.”