So much for conventional wisdom. The external expectation was that Richie Porte’s early-season exploits at the Tour Down Under meant he might be a step ahead of his rivals at the Tour of Oman, but instead, the BMC rider’s long trek from Australia has been blamed for his low-key showing on the opening two stages.
Porte was dropped on the final climb of Tuesday’s opening stage, conceding three and a half minutes in the process, and he effectively repeated the dose on stage 2. This time out, the Tasmanian was among those distanced even before the short climb to the line at Quriyat, eventually coming home a little over three minutes down.
For the second successive day, Porte declined to field questions from reporters at the finish, and instead it was left to BMC directeur sportif Fabio Baldato to speak on the new signing’s behalf. The Italian explained that Porte had sat up as a precaution in the finale.
“He was already out of GC after yesterday so it was better for him to stay out of trouble today,” Baldato said.
A phalanx of BMC riders were prominent on the approach the final climb in a bid to position Greg Van Avermaet, who eventually placed third in the uphill sprint behind winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), though Porte was not among them.
“We had six riders for Van Avermaet in the final, and Richie was already behind because the plan was not to take risks,” Baldato said. “It was better for Richie to be out of the front and avoid risking a crash.
“The moment you are out of GC, it doesn’t matter if you arrive at the top of the climb 20 or 30 minutes down. The GC at the Tour of Oman is already finished for him. We will see on the mountain stage, we will try to test him there.”
Porte had expressed misgivings about his Tour of Oman prospects at a media roundtable on the eve of the race, citing the after-effects of his trip from Australia and his focus on a third overall victory at next month’s Paris-Nice. Baldato echoed his comments in Quriyat on Wednesday.
“Yesterday he decided not to go deep. He went easy because he came here from Australia only two days before the race. There’s seven-hour time difference, so for him it’s better that he goes day by day and comes up step by step to the next race,” Baldato said. “After here, there are still two weeks before Paris-Nice.
“We’re still only two days after his trip from Australia. To race all out afterwards is not the best thing. If you were going from Europe to the Tour Down Under, you'd go there 10 days in advance to be ready.”
Stage 4’s long haul up Green Mountain ought to provide a truer indication of Porte’s current form, although a degree of caution when attempting to read the runes of February racing in the Middle East is always advisable.
On Porte’s sole previous appearance at the Tour of Oman in 2013, he placed a low-key 37th, only to win Paris-Nice and place second at Critérium International and the Tour of the Basque Country in the weeks that followed. “We are relaxed, really,” Baldato said. “We are relaxed.”