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Australian chasing Tour de France start alongside Wiggins
Along his local training roads in Monaco, Richie Porte (Team Sky) hones his form. The 27-year-old, with his Sky team kit now a regular companion on his back, is home after another strong showing for the British team. This time he helped hoist Bradley Wiggins to the top step at the Tour of Romandie.
The season has seen Porte cement himself as one of Sky's most dependable performers, and in the five months since signing a multi-year deal with the team he has positioned himself as one of Wiggins's most reliable teammates.
It's in contrast to 2011, when Porte, although part of Alberto Contador's Giro team, almost appeared like a periphery figure on the Saxo Bank books.
"That's been nice having moved to a new team, having a bit more motivation to get results and I've enjoyed riding with Brad in what's been Sky's GC team. I've enjoyed having the opportunity to ride for myself in races like Algarve as well."
His transition has appeared seamless. Part of that may be due to renewed motivation but Sky were long-time admirers of the Australian, having watched him race to 7th in the 2010 Giro and wear the maglia rosa for several days in the process.
"It's an English team and I wanted to come here and ride for them for a long time," Porte explained. "I knew I'd fit quite well with them. How could you not be motivated when the team has been performing like it has. You don't want to sound arrogant but we've been setting a bench mark."
He's certainly not arrogant. In week-long stage races Sky have been a constant presence - mainly due to the form of Wiggins - and in the process have sent out a warning to the likes of RadioShack and BMC, who have both struggled at times this year.
Porte's form means that team boss Dave Brailsford will have a welcome but difficult choice come July. The team have made no secret of their ambitions to compete for both yellow and the green jersey and with places at a premium, selection for the British team has never been tougher. Porte's performances suggest he'll be a candidate Sky can't afford to leave at home and while he admits he'd 'love to go to the Tour', he knows that the team's management have a number of factors to consider ahead of July's grand tour.
"I guess you're only as good as your last race but the thing with Sky is that they could fill two competitive teams," he told Cyclingnews. "I'm just going to continue doing what I'm doing and working hard and get some good results for myself and helping the team. I'm confident that I can get there but then there are guys like Chris Froome and it's not going to be an easy team to break into."
Froome has struggled with injury and form this year but his second place in last year's Vuelta where he finished a place ahead of Wiggins, lives fresh in the memory and should he rediscover his fitness in time there's every chance he and Porte will form part of Wiggins' mountain shepherds.
Following Wiggins into battle
Wiggins has clearly had an effect on Porte, the Australian talking at length about how pleased he is to ride for the Englishman. While he has respect for his previous team leader, Alberto Contador, it's clear that Wiggins and Porte have quickly built up a rapport.
"How can you compare anyone to Alberto, he's the best I guess, but you look at the Tour and the races Bradley has won and he's up there with the best climbers. In Mende in Paris-Nice he was third and then his time trial is his weapon. On and off the bike they're much the same. They're both great leaders and they're both great guys. There are similarities there and that's the sort of guy you want to go into battle with," he says.
"With Alberto the thing was that there was always a communication barrier. Even though his English is quite good, Brad always has the boys in stitches and I've spent a lot of time around him lately. I know it's a cliché that everyone says their leaders are great but it's great to be part of the team. You see how hard Brad works and then the results he gets. That's good for someone like me because in a couple of years I'd love to be doing what he's doing now."
Assuming Porte does make Sky's Tour line-up he will of course ride to assist Wiggins. He'll then hope to compete in the Olympics but he also suggests that the 2013 Giro d'Italia could be his chance to ride for himself over a three-week parcours.
In hindsight he'd be leading Saxo Bank at the Tour this year - at any race he wanted until the Vuelta - if he'd remained with the Danish team but he has no regrets on leaving Bjarne Riis' team.
"I'm happy with the choice I made. The investment Sky make into their races, we get looked after, and the support, it's just the complete package. Last year I also had opportunities to ride for myself and it didn't really work out for me and this year I'm a much different rider. I'm a happy rider this year.
"The problem in 2011 was that I had that break out season in 2010 and then there was pressure after and I didn't deal that well with it. I guess it's always a little bit easier when you're pulling in the mountains and it's not you who needs to lead. I think in the future, in a year or so, I'll be more comfortable taking leadership roles."