There was a time just after Richie Porte left Team Sky when it looked like the Australian was struggling with the responsibility and had jumped out of the fat and into the fire. The adaptation from being the trusted lieutenant to team leader has been a long project, maybe more difficult than BMC Racing initially thought it was going to be, but Porte’s form this season and his dominance at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné has shown that now he's arrived at the physical level needed to be a proper favourite for the Tour de France in July.
The assassination of him on the last stage of the Dauphine was interesting not only in its brutality but also the lack of respect shown. It was a proper old school attack on him and his team, and an indication that everyone wanted to see just where his limits are and how BMC could cope with being put under extreme stress.
The result of that pressure testing was a few home truths that make for uncomfortable reading for the other Tour de France contenders. Porte out-climbed, out-time trialled and would have out-sprinted Jakob Fuglsang if Chris Froome had kept his line during the fight to the line at the end of stage 6. The only chink in the armour was a relative lack of support from his team when it came down to the real nitty-gritty moments. But remember that while Dauphiné may be touted as the big pre-Tour showdown and it may use some of the climbs that'll be done in July, the team selections aren't usually as strong and the race tactics are a lot less controlled as a result. Things that happen there don't occur when the stakes are higher and the interests of the teams are more widely spread amongst the non-GC competitions.
Unlike the situation at the Dauphiné, where Porte became isolated rather too quickly, riders in situations like that at the Tour tend to find some willing helpers when there are a points jersey, places in the top ten, a white jersey or a team classifications to defend.
This might seem a strange thing to say given that Richie Porte lost the Dauphiné due to being mugged by all the other team leaders, but he can take comfort in the fact that it needed all of them to do it. Even then it's only because he paid too much attention to what his former teammate and appointed leader at Sky, Chris Froome, was doing instead of riding a more offensive race which is what he had done up until the fateful final day.
That Porte could take back every favourite except Fuglsang on the last climb despite having to do all the valley and ascent on his own showed just how strong he was. Froome had Kwiatkowski to pull for him and despite that he cracked. For once the other guys who were usually too afraid to take advantage of a Sky weakness jumped him – in much the same manner as Froome had done to Porte on the Colombier.
As a physical pointer, the race showed that Porte was superior, and the psychological challenges that he would have faced when everyone ganged up on him can only have had a positive effect. Contrary to popular belief, this kind of thing will only produce more resolve and determination when a moment for revenge comes along. Now that BMC and its leader know that the other teams and leaders are willing to play dirty, any opportunity to eliminate one of the perpetrators will be taken without a moment’s thought. The level of ruthlessness has been established and it didn't crack Porte mentally or physically.
It's almost as if there's been a fear of Froome and the Team Sky collective up until now, letting them dictate the racing and being too respectful of what might happen if any of their tactics are challenged. The Dauphiné showed that doesn't have to be the case. Yes, maybe Froome does still start the Tour as the rider to beat, but Porte needn't be afraid at all.