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Richie Porte (Team Sky) off the front on Willunga Hill
Sky captain finishes fourth after queen stage win
Only five seconds made the difference from a repeat podium from the Australian men's National Road Race Championships held earlier in the month in Ballarat where Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), Cadel Evans (BMC) and Richie Porte (Sky) made it a 1-2-3 finish. This time, Porte would finish fourth in the six-stage race behind Gerrans, Evans and Italy's Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida).
Two-time national champion, Gerrans, held on to a one-second lead over former world champion and Tour de France winner Evans to become the first rider to win the Tour Down Under, now in its 16th year, on three occasions.
In talking about Gerrans' victory in Ballarat, Porte said: "Simon showed he is pretty quick – I mean, he won a bunch sprint here, too. It's always going to be hard to beat him here and he had a great team around him as well."
Porte gave Gerrans full credit on the win and said that Australia's 'big three' can't be ignored in any race on the WorldTour calendar.
"I think he deserves the win," he said. "[Gerrans] fought hard, and Cadel winning a stage as well and me winning a stage, I guess it showed the three guys on the [nationals] podium there in Ballarat were here to fight."
Porte, a pre-race favourite, and his Sky teammates, which also included Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas from the both Bradley Wiggins and Christopher Froome's Tour de France-winning squads, had remained relatively quiet during this year's race until the stage five's Willunga Hill on Saturday. "It's a little bit disappointing to be fourth, so close to the podium," said Porte, a 28-year-old Tasmanian who came of age by winning Paris-Nice last year. "But to win the Willunga stage makes up for that. It's a great way to kick the season off.
"I am quite happy with how the week went."
Porte has proved instrumental in Sky's stranglehold over the yellow jersey the past two years, and served loyally as a peloton-crushing super domestique for Froome in 2013. This year, Porte will get his chance to shine as Sky's team captain and general classification contender at the Giro d'Italia in May where he will once again face off in a highly anticipated showdown with fellow Australian, Cadel Evans.
"Something I learned last year in Paris-Nice is to stay at the front," said Porte. "That is where the race is going to be won. It is the same this week.
"I lost a four-second gap just because someone let the wheel go in a sprint. But the rest of the time I have been up there."
Porte says staying up at the front is not difficult when surrounded by a strong team, and gives high praise to teammates like Bernhard Eisel and Stannard for shepherding him through the bunch.
"It does do good thing to your confidence to ride with a good, strong team like this and an experienced team too," he said. "Bring on May."