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PAU, France (CT) – It was, in Richie Porte’s own words, “the worst-kept secret” in pro cycling. As the Tasmanian confirmed to SBS TV during Sunday’s coverage of the Tour de France, Porte’s leaving Team Sky at the end of this season.
Since April this year, Porte has been talking about his desire to move to a team where he’ll be given full support in his quest to win a Grand Tour. He reiterated that desire today when speaking to a small group of journalists after the Team Sky rest-day press conference in Pau.
“I’m great friends with Chris [Froome] and I’m happy at Sky but I do need to look after myself,” Porte said. “I’ve done enough in service of others that I deserve the opportunity to have a crack [myself].”
In the earlier press conference Porte had been guarded about his decision to leave Sky, saying he’s got more immediate things on his mind.
“To be honest with you I’m here with Team Sky, I’m in Sky kit, I love this team, Froomey’s one of my closest friends and so are the rest of the guys,” Porte said. “I know what my job is here and I’m excited now to get into the mountains.”
“You’re talking about [Nairo] Quintana and all these others guys — I can’t wait to chase them. That’s my job — they attack, I’m going to chase them for my mate Froomey. I’m looking forward to that.”
Much of the first block of racing at this year’s Tour hasn’t suited Richie Porte particularly well, with strong crosswinds and cobblestones among the obstacles presented by race organisers. For Porte, it meant an opportunity to sit at the back of the bunch and save himself for the terrain that suits him best — the mountains.
“It’s not been an easy first nine days,” Porte told CyclingTips. “It’s been nice to be able to sometimes get to 20km to go and be able to drop to the back of the peloton and certainly sit up in the last three or four kilometres. That’s a lot of stress off.”
For Porte, it was just a relief to get to the first rest day with all his skin in tact.
“There’s a lot of guys riding around looking like mummies at the moment,” Porte told CyclingTips. “To be going into these next two weeks feeling fit and healthy; it’s quite good mentally.”
Porte came into 2015 with his best-ever pre-season behind him. He was leaner, more focused, and seemingly more hungry for success than he ever had been before. And sure enough, success soon came.
He won a swag of races in the early part of the year, including the Australian time trial championships, a stage of the Tour Down Under, plus overall wins at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya. He admits that he’s not in the same form now as he was back then.
“I don’t feel anywhere near as good as I did at the start of the season,” Porte told CyclingTips on the first rest day of the Tour de France. “All the guys that they’re talking about — [Alberto] Contador and guys like them — I was climbing with them at the start of the year.”
“I’m still climbing well enough that I can chase down some of these guys. That’s the thing with Quintana — he’s shown time and time again that he will attack early,” Porte said. “There’s Geraint Thomas, [Leopold] Konig and myself there — we can do some good work for Chris [Froome] and hopefully help him to finish this off.”
Nine stages into this year’s Tour, Porte’s close friend and team leader Chris Froome is in an enviable position. Since stage 2 he’s enjoyed a noteworthy buffer between himself and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and now, with the tricky first section of the race out of the way, Froome admits he’s in a better position after stage 9 than he could have hoped for.
“The big thing [in the first week] was to not lose any time to any of the contenders,” Froome said on the Tour’s first rest day in Pau. “But to be in this position — I’m already in yellow — to have gained quite substantial amounts of time on a lot of my big rivals? This is the dream scenario at the moment and I really just have my team to thank for that.”
When Froome won the 2013 Tour de France he did so off the back of a heavy race program that included wins at the Tour of Oman, the Criterium International, the Tour of Romandie and the Criterium du Dauphine. This year he’s come in with significantly less racing in his legs having been struck by an illness at Tirreno-Adriatico.
“I’m in a different position. I came into the race extremely ready two years ago, winning almost every race up until the Tour,” Froome said on Monday. “I felt like I was almost hanging on after the halfway mark. This year, I feel much fresher and more mentally prepared.”
Going into tomorrow’s stage — the first of three consecutive uphill finishes in the Pyrenees — Froome is wary of his rivals, with Nairo Quintana being of particular concern when the road heads up.
“I expect that Nairo will be the guy to look out for more than Vincenzo in this next stage of the race,” Froome said.
For Richie Porte, it’s former teammate and winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia, Alberto Contador, that poses the greatest danger. This despite a middling first nine stages from the Spaniard and questions about how much the Giro has taken out of his legs.
“It’s funny sitting here and no-one’s talking about Alberto but in my opinion he’s the one that we’ve got to watch,” Porte said. “He’s smart and he’s hard — he’s probably the hardest bike rider there is. He’s not just going to lie down in the mountains. That’s our job now — to make it as hard for him as we can.”
And while much of the talk has been about the ‘Big Four’, Chris Froome believes it would be a mistake to discount BMC’s Tejay van Garderen. The American currently sits second overall behind Froome.
“It’s definitely not a surprise to me that Tejay’s riding as well as he is,” Froome said. “I rode against him in Dauphine and he was very impressive there and there was only a very narrow margin between us.
“I do expect him to be up there and as it stands, he is my biggest threat, only 12 seconds down.”
For Porte, the next two weeks are all about riding in support of Chris Froome in the Pyrenees and the Alps but should an opportunity present itself, a stage win is not off the cards.
“That’s a dream. I’ve spoken with Chris and he’s more than willing to help me [win a stage] as long as it doesn’t jeopardise anything for him for overall,” Porte said. “That’s the biggest goal at the moment; to have [the yellow] jersey in two weeks from now.”