TOMBLAINE, France, July 12, 2014 – Richie Porte has the mentality to step up to his new role as Sky team leader and succeed, his manager Dave Brailsford believes.
The 29-year-old Australian has suddenly been thrust forward from chief back-up to principal player in Team Sky after reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome pulled out injured. Froome was the overwhelming favourite coming into the race having dominated last year, but now Vincenzo Niblai holds the yellow jersey with new favorite Alberto Contador more than two-and-a-half minutes behind.
“It’s all to play for in my opinion,” said Brailsford. Tasmanian Porte is perhaps the closest of Nibali’s realistic rivals as he’s the only one within two minutes of the Italian, apart from young Pole Michal Kwiatkowski at 50sec, but who is something of an unknown quantity. When asked how Porte was adjusting to his new-found status, Brailsford said he was relishing it.
“I think super. Richie’s confidence has grown a lot over the last couple of years. Winning Paris-Nice (last year) was a big moment for him. His belief system has kicked on from there a little bit. “It was unfortunate he got sick in Tirreno ( Adriatico in March) and he really wanted his opportunity in the Giro (d’Italia in May), and all being well I think he’d have gone terrificly well. “He’s so close and you do (want an opportunity), and when you’ve got your opportunity you’ve got to grasp it. That’s life and I think he’s grasping it.”
Having enjoyed a great start to 2013 by winning Paris-Nice and then finishing second behind Froome in the primary Tour warm-up event, the Criterium du Dauphine, Porte suffered one disastrous stage at the Tour where he lost more than 10 minutes, but otherwise was a constant companion for Froome in the mountains, even putting time into most of his team leader’s rivals.
He hasn’t gone so well in the early part of this year as he was pulled off the defense of his Paris-Nice title to ride the Tirreno-Adriatico when Froome withdrew due to a back problem.
– Positive vibes –
Porte was ill, though, and failed to finish, also failing to reach the end of the Tour of Catalunya and Tour de Romandie. He still wasn’t at his best at last month’s Dauphine, riding erratically between good and bad days as he finished 22nd overall. But Brailsford says Froome’s misfortune is Porte’s opportunity and the positive vibes coming from the Australian are infectious.
“It’s funny when you’ve got existing riders who get a new opportunity, it makes them excited and that excitement passes around all the group and the staff. “It’s a slightly different challenge than coming here with somebody that’s one of the favorites to win and then all of sudden you’ve got someone else who thinks ‘wow this is fantastic’. “It’s changed the mentality really and it’s positive.”
Brailsford added: “He’s been fantastic for us. He’s been a great performer in the mountains and perfect team-mate. Last year the role he played for Chris, you can’t measure that. “Richie’s an emotional character but he’s got quite a lot of confidence, he believes in himself, that’s the most important thing and here’s his chance: let’s watch him take it and see what he can do, it’s exciting.”
Brailsford also believes the Tour is set for a thrilling race to Paris with several riders poised between two and three minutes back from Nibali. The British cycling chief thinks it’s only a matter of time before the attacks begin, starting this weekend in the Vosges mountains. “You can’t just sit back. Two minutes is short when you’ve got a lead of two minutes, but when you’re behind by two minutes it looks a long way. “Something’s got to give, somebody’s got to have a go surely. It’s the Tour de France, it’s a race, it would be a shame if we just had a procession from here to Paris.”