Richie Porte and Team Sky fought off attacks from the Astana and Ag2r-La Mondiale teams during the third stage of the Giro del Trentino to Fierozzo, learning another precious lesson for the rapidly approaching Giro d'Italia.
Team Sky lost Mikel Nieve before the stage due to illness, forcing the other six riders in the team to do an extra share of the work. The British team grafted to control a large breakaway for much of the stage and then had to chase an attack that included Diego Rosa (Astana) and Roman Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondale) on the testing Passo Redebus. That left them tired on the eight-kilometre climb to the finish as several riders launched attacks to try and win the stage.
Porte and Team Sky never panicked when under attack but they were unable to stop Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) from winning the stage. Porte remains in the leader's fuchsia-coloured jersey, 22 seconds ahead of Mikel Landa (Astana), with his teammate Leopold Konig third overall at 58 seconds.
"Ag2r were aggressive and raced well, Pozzovivo deserved the stage," Porte said sportingly. "Pozzovivo is a big champion and it's interesting to see that he bounced back after yesterday. The stage was not easy at all and the first climb after 37km was not as easy as it looked on paper. But it's another day in the jersey. We ran short of teammates at the finish but that's cycling. Everyone pulled their weight today."
It was a valuable lesson before the Giro d'Italia, where Team Sky may need to defend the leader's pink jersey for several days.
"This is not our final team for Sky for the Giro," Porte pointed out. "There are guys coming in who are a little stronger, while some of these guys will be better for the Giro. We lost Nieve due to illness but he'll be okay for the Giro and will be a big help. That's what we lacked that bit in the last three kilometres."
Ready to follow on from Cadel Evans and target the Giro d'Italia
Team Sky need to survive Friday's final stage before Porte follows on from fellow Australian Cadel Evans in the list of winners at the Giro del Trentino.
The last stage is over a hilly 165km loop in the Val di Non but ends with two rolling finishing circuits. A breakaway is widely expected to dominate the stage.
"Cadel Evans won it last year and so I'd love to add my name to the list of winners," Porte said. "We'll see what happens. A rider like Oscar Gatto is the big favourite for me for the last stage. If we have to control it, we will. But others teams have interests too. We got our stage yesterday. But anyway, we have the team to take control."
Victory at the Giro del Trentino would confirm Porte is a favourite for overall victory at the Italian Grand Tour. Now 30-years-old and at least five kilogrammes lighter than in the past after a change in diet and lifestyle, Porte is convinced he is ready to target a Grand Tour.
"I know that a three-week Grand Tour is a little bit different to Paris-Nice or Catalunya but I've matured as a rider and got stronger," he argued. "I'm ready to take on three weeks, even if the final week is not easy because of the time trial, racing at altitude and the climbs. We'll take it as it comes. It's the same parcours for everyone else…. We'll see what happens.”
Despite his excellent form and Chris Froome's crash at Flèche-Wallonne, Porte has no plans to change his race programme and head to Belgium to ride Sunday's Liège-Bastogne-Liège or even the Tour de Romandie.
"I'm on Giro recon duty until Sunday," he said clearly. "Chris was never down to ride Liège.
"I spoke to him yesterday. He's lost some skin but he's fine. The only worry is that the route of Flèche Wallonne is the route of the third stage of this year's Tour de France. Let's hope it's less of a crash-fest come the Tour."