Richie Porte: Australia’s first Paris-Nice winner

In the wee hours of Monday morning another exciting chapter in Australian cycling history was written, with Tasmania’s Richie Porte becoming the first Aussie to win Paris-Nice.

Porte went into the ‘Race to the Sun’ as Team Sky’s number one rider for the week long stage event, and he has duly rewarded his team.

There is no doubt that Porte was under a bit of pressure this week, if not from himself or the team management, but certainly from those watching on. There is plenty of speculation about just who out of Wiggins and Froome is the team’s leader, but with Porte clearly their number three, it was imperative that he take his chance in this race and perform.

He did just that, convincingly winning stage 5, a 176km ride with a mountain top finish, from Chateauneuf-du-Pape to La Montagne. At the end of the stage, Porte had the yellow leaders jersey and a 32 second advantage over American rider Andrew Talansky of Garmin Sharp.

Porte then went on to dominate the time trial on the final day of the race. He posted a time of 19 minutes and 16 seconds on the 9.6km course from Nice to Col d’Eze. This time is only 4 seconds off Wiggins’ winning time last year.

Commenting on the Team Sky website, Porte said, “I just never thought or believed that I could win Paris-Nice. For me personally I’ve never had a nice experience at this race so it’s a massive monkey off the back to come here and win it.

“I can’t believe it. The first Aussie to win such a big race and it’s just an honour to have my name up there with Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and all the big champions.”

The victory is even all the more impressive when taken in the context that Porte’s first year as a pro cyclist was in 2010, where he won the young rider classification at the Giro d’Italia. He was, relatively speaking, a late starter in the sport, having crossed over from triathlons.

Porte’s victory at Paris-Nice, though, only furthers speculation about leadership roles and opportunities at Team Sky. With Wiggins and Froome clearly competing against each other, team management surely have enough to contend with, without another candidate for leadership responsibilities.

Porte, playing down such leadership speculation on the team’s website, “I don’t feel like I’m ready to lead at a Grand Tour yet. My goal is to go to the Tour and support Chris and Brad. Do that and maybe next year I could potentially lead Team Sky at the Giro.

“I’m still doing my apprenticeship and I’m still learning off Bradley and Chris [Froome]. I don’t expect to go to the Tour and ride for general classification. I’m in a good place at the moment and I don’t want to change anything.”

The 28 year old does still have time on his side in terms of leadership aspirations but realistically, for those aspirations to be met, he will most likely have to look to move elsewhere.

That move, though, may not be for a year or two. If he can get leadership responsibilities at next year’s Giro, and be successful, undoubtedly offers will roll in and he should look at moving on if Wiggins and Froome are still with Sky.

There was speculation last year that perhaps Porte should have stayed with Saxo Bank once Contador was banned, as he would then have been their GC contender at last years Tour de France.

Porte seems determined, however, to use his experience at Sky to learn and progress his career. I suspect that privately he knows his GC chances will eventually be better served elsewhere. For Aussie cycling fans, we can hope that place is Orica-Greenedge.

Porte’s win is yet another example of Australia’s current depth of cycling talent, and we could well be seeing the GC cycling mantle passing from Cadel Evans to Richie Porte.

As Cadel Evans ages gracefully, we have to accept that his days as a Grand Tour winner are numbered. Evans began quite well in this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico, but has conceded he is no longer in contention after a dismal stage 5 to Chieti, finishing 7 minutes behind the leaders. I think it’s unlikely that Evans will win another Grand Tour, although, I can assure you I will continue to sit up all night cheering him on.

Porte on the other hand, has only just begun his Grand Tour aspirations. It’s not surprising that Porte is eyeing a leadership role at next year’s Giro, especially as it’s been a successful hunting ground for him in the past. He is definitely a future champion of either the Giro or perhaps even the Tour. In the right team, with everything going his way, anything is possible for him. He’s only 28 and there’s no reason why he can’t be a GC contender. Remember, Cadel was the oldest to win the Tour at 34.

Richie Porte definitely has the potential to win more Grand Tours than Cadel Evans. For one thing, he benefits from the new generation of riders who are embracing a cleaner peloton. There is some evidence to suggest that Cadel could have won more Grand Tours, had the peloton at the time not been so aided by banned substances.

On a much brighter note, Australian cycling continues to bask in the glorious glow of success. Richie Porte’s historic victory at Paris-Nice is yet another milestone in our growing love affair with road racing.

 

Published on The Roar 11th March, 2013

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