Richie Porte's Grand Tour ambitions may be over for another season but Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford has warned that the Australian should not be written off as a three-week rider despite this year’s disappointing Giro d'Italia.
Porte came into the race on the back of a hugely successful start to the season and was earmarked a genuine contender for victory alongside Alberto Contador and Fabio Aru. By the time the race hit the first rest day the trio were separated by less than 30 seconds with Porte in third.
However a two minute time deduction on stage 10 for illegally taking a wheel from a rival team rider, a crash, further time losses and a hammering on the first day in the Dolomites saw Porte abandon the race and head home.
"He was bitterly disappointed obviously but that's part of being a pro athlete. To put it behind you, dust yourself down, find some new goals and go again," Brailsford told the press at the start of stage 17.
"It's very easy to say that he didn't finish and that it hasn't quite worked out and it's easy to write him off in that sense but I don't think that's fair or appropriate.
"He's won some fantastic races in some fantastic ways this year so he is physically up there with the best climbers in the world when he's on song. Can he put it together for three weeks, who knows? This time around he's had his crashes and his incidents, but it wasn't that he got dropped, but it all counts."
Porte is out of contract at the end of the season and a number of teams are interested in luring the 30-year-old to pastures new but the primary goal for the rider and his current team is for the athlete to regain full health and return in time for the Tour de France where he will aim to slot in as Chris Froome’s domestique deluxe.
"He has great memories of riding the Tour with Froome and I think that's something that he can get excited about. Hopefully we can get him right in time for that."
Of course the inevitable question surrounding Porte is whether he can bounce back and lead Team Sky at another Grand Tour. Their Giro plan B in Leopold König is scrapping for a top five place but was caught and fined for hanging onto a car on stage 16, and Porte remains one of the most successful stage racers in the weeklong format in 2015.
"It's too early to say but despite the last two weeks he's still probably been one of if not the best stage racer of the season," Brailsford replied when asked about Porte's long-term leadership role in Grand Tours.
"Here you've got Alberto and then everyone else and fair play to him for that but ultimately you can't judge Richie on the last two weeks."
Linked to Landa
Porte isn't the only potential GC rider on the market this summer with Mikel Landa also out of contract. The Spaniard sits second at the Giro d'Italia behind Alberto Contador. This morning the French press linked Team Sky with a move for the rider but Brailsford wouldn’t be drawn on whether he was interested in any potential signing.
"I'll have to go and read it. There are 147 guys with contracts up and 14 of our guys have contracts up and you can read that we're probably trying to sign 147 of them. I wouldn't talk about anyone under contract with anybody else and I wouldn't speculate about what we're going to do with our riders," he said.
"In a way I can sympathise with Martinelli because I've been there with Bradley and Chris in the past. It's not easy. He's a good manger and good DS. I think it's been obvious for a while that Landa has been climbing better than Aru since day one. Landa has been around for a while. He was a good junior but if you ask anyone who has known him for a long time he's a huge talent. From a climbing point of view he's been impressive."
Tinkov raises the bar
While Landa continues to surprise with his form, one rider who remains head and shoulders above the competition is Alberto Contador, who leads the race by over four minutes. The Tinkoff Saxo rider provided a virtuoso display on the Mortirolo on stage 16, just when such a performance was demanded.
Brailsford praised the race leader but also his manager Oleg Tinkov, who has continually tried to deride Team Sky's marginal gains approach via his social media account. Whether serious or not – Tinkov has hired several of Brailsford's former staff – the Team Sky boss added that his Russian counterpart was a positive influence on the sport of cycling.
"You've got the Twitter account and then you've got the real person," Brailsford said.
"I've actually got a lot of time for him. I think he's good for the sport. He's a smart guy, he's loud, for sure and there are certain ways in which he manages that we may differ in but fundamentally I have a lot of respect for him. We've been one of the better teams this year but fair play to them in May, they won in Norway, and they're going to win this barring any crazy situation and they won in California. They will be the best team in May.
"If you want to get the best out of yourself you need a bloody good competition. Competition is a healthy thing and I embrace it. I know a lot of the guys who work there, they worked with us, and they're really, really good guys. They've changed the structure and they're starting to flourish. What Contador did yesterday was phenomenal and sometimes you have to stand back and say he's one of the best stage racers of our generation and when he rode like he did yesterday you have to just admire it. You respect it. I'm all for him [Oleg].
"I have a certain philosophy and way to manage and other people are totally different. He has his approach and philosophy and if he gets results, it's his business. You have to stand back and not judge and just get on with it. He's adding colour and context to the sport. He's pushing hard, that's for for sure, but it's a better sport with him."