Sergio Henao's bid to overthrow Richie Porte during the Tour Down Under's key climbing stage failed to make an impact
Henao entered the WorldTour opener considered a genuine threat to Porte’s publicised campaign. A double puncture damaged his chances on the first hilltop finish on Wednesday, but many thought the 29-year-old could make-up time in the penultimate queen stage.
Team Sky – until Porte’s attack some two kilometres from the finish – had been tactically brilliant. The outfit positioned Henao well at the base of the ascent, with the peloton hurting under the pace set by Ian Stannard and then late entry Kenny Elissonde at the beginning of the climb.
Henao and his cousin, Sebastian both made the final selection. The latter got a gap on the group but as he looked back for his team leader instead saw Porte make his move a bit earlier than usual.
“The guys rode perfect, Richie just had better legs than everyone,” Sky sports director Brett Lancaster said. “We gave it everything and didn’t pull it off.”
Henao, who was third overall last year behind Simon Gerrans (Orica-Scott) and Porte, conceded 33 seconds to Porte and now sits 11th overall, one minute and six seconds down with Sunday’s final criterium stage remaining.
“Team Sky made that really hard there at the bottom, which kind of played into my hands a bit,” Porte said post-race.
“But at the end of the day I’ve shown I’m in good form. To win two stages here is just an incredible way to start the year. It’s been a hard week of racing. They were good, they pushed me.”
Onus for a stage win will fall back on Sky’s sprinter Danny van Poppel on Sunday.
“Danny has been close a few times so we’ll see what he can do,” Lancaster said. “It seems Caleb [Ewan] is a bit unstoppable at the moment with his form, but we’ll give it everything.”