Sky principal Dave Brailsford has said that the new team Tour leader Richie Porte is eager to seize the chance he has been given and to lead the team in search of a yellow jersey in Paris.
The team had originally entered the Tour with defending champion Chris Froome as designated leader and with Porte as the second protected rider. Froome was however forced to withdraw on stage five due to injuries sustained on that stage plus the previous day; Porte was then confirmed as moving up into the number one slot, with Geraint Thomas now the second protected competitor.
“Richie has been given an opportunity that he has wanted for a long time,” Brailsford told CyclingTips at the start of stage seven in Épernay. “He is very, very excited about it, as is Geraint. I think there is a real good morale in the camp and a real sense of opportunity and excitement.”
The Briton dismissed any suggestion that Porte might not feel comfortable or confident in the top slot. The Australian has had a difficult year due to illness and injury, but appeared relaxed at the start of stage seven; Brailsford said that he is not intimidated by the responsibility of heading the squad.
“These guys want their opportunities,” he said. “They are absolutely loyal team-mates when they mean to be, but like anyone they all like to have their opportunities. He [Porte] has been presented with an opportunity and he is very, very excited by that. He wants to grasp it with both hands and make the most out of it.”
Brailsford added that the priority was to keep Thomas and Mikel Nieve fresh for as long as possible before the mountains, with the other riders on the team to use their strength instead.
In the past two years, the squad has had to defend the Maillot Jaune from early in the race; in 2012, Bradley Wiggins seized yellow at the end of stage seven and held it until the end. Last year Froome won stage eight and moved to the top of the standings then. He too retained it from that point until Paris.
This time round, Astana heads the list with Vincenzo Nibali. Porte is eighth at 1 minute 54 seconds. While he has time to make up, Brailsford sees one plus.
“It is nice not to have to defend the jersey, to be honest,” he said. “We know what we don’t like when we are defending the jersey so we will try to use that to our advantage against other teams who are defending the jersey.
“We have got our ideas about where to try to take an advantage and try to do something. We will take that as the race unfolds.”
Froome is clearly back in Monaco a lot sooner than he would have expected. His season has been good in places but missing out on his prime objective will be bitterly disappointing. He’ll likely set a new objective, but Brailsford wouldn’t be drawn on what that might be.
“I think he has got to asses his injuries first. To get full knowledge of his injuries and once we have got that, we can go from there. At this moment in time, we are still at the point of trying to get a full handle on his injuries and then let the dust settle there and off we go with him.
“I think he is disappointed, obviously,” he continued, speaking about Froome’s state of mind. “But dealing with setbacks is part of sport. He has just got to be able to get on with it. That is part of life and that game; you try to recalibrate, you put it behind you and you go again.”
Froome is the first defending champion since Bernard Hinault in 1980 to be forced to withdraw during the Tour.