If Richie Porte (Team Sky) is the favourite for this year's Tour Down Under he certainly isn't letting the pressure get to him. The new Australian time trial champion lines up as one of the men to watch in the upcoming WorldTour race and is backed by a strong Team Sky contingent that includes Gertaint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh.
Porte finished fourth overall in the race twelve months ago and won a memorable stage to Willunga Hill after breaking away from his key rival Simon Gerrans and Cadel Evans. The former is not on the start list after breaking his collarbone in a mountain biking accident, while Evans is within touching distance of retirement.
After his win in the national time trial Porte raced the road race. His second performance, he says, offers few key indicators over his form, but the former Paris-Nice winner does admit that he's found his motivation after a poor 2014.
"I'm feeling pretty good now but I guess I don’t really know how my exact form is because Nationals was a bit of a weird race. There's climbing and it's hard but a lot of the big favourites, the climbers, were watching each other while the sprinters were contesting the race," he tells Cyclingnews.
"Obviously with the time trial I was really pleased with my ride. I've not done a time trial on a course like that for a long time but I've done a lot of work on my position over the last few months and I'm much happier now with my position so I felt like I got a lot more power out on the course. It meant a lot to win against just a quality field of course."
"This race is different now because we've a strong team here and Geraint Thomas is in good form too. I'm looking forward to racing with such a good strong team behind me."
All the pre-race hype stemming from his time trial ride has marked Porte as the man to beat. However the Tour Down Under often throws up surprises. While commentators and fans have been eager to rank and summarise the Australian peloton based on a few early season events, they've done so without the European teams. They have now landed in Adelaide and there are a number of early-season pace setters eager to spoil the Australian party.
"I don't really know about favourites," Porte says when batting back the suggestion of being the pre-race favourite.
"No one does because you get an idea of how strong the Australian field is from Nationals but then the European guys come in. Look at someone like Tom Dumoulin for example. He could go for the bonus sprints and guys like him could be a real surprise. Cadel is obviously motivated and he was good in this race last year. I know I'm in good shape and I'm really motivated for this year. I just want to get going and have a big Tour Down Under. If that makes me the favourite, I don’t know. It doesn't change much and you've still got to have that little bit of luck as well."
Matt White from Orica GreenEdge labelled Porte the 'strongest rider in the world' on current form after his time trial win. Part compliment, part placing a target on Porte's back, the Team Sky rider accepts the praise but adds that there is no added pressure on his shoulders.
"That’s nice of Matt to say and I'm really happy with where I'm at. Last year was a total disaster but it’s been good for me to go home, train and enjoy to ride my bike again. If that makes me the strongest rider then 'm happy to hear him say those things. It doesn't give me any pressure and I’ll take the race as it comes. Orica don't have Gerrans here but they have Impey and Meyer here and they both look fit."
Click here to subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel.