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Rare opportunity comes Australian's way
In a Sky line-up that's dominated by Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and their respective grand tour ambitions, Richie Porte is relishing the opportunity coming his way at Paris-Nice but it comes with some trepidation.
"I'm a little bit nervous I guess, to have the team riding for you," he told Cyclingnews before the course au soleil.
Porte, 28, has been gifted the lead role courtesy of the fact that Wiggins won't be defending his 2012 Paris-Nice title. The tables have turned somewhat from 12 months ago, where Porte was coming off his first stage race win at the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal, with the support of Wiggins who finished third on GC. Porte then went into battle for the then-future Tour de France victor at Paris-Nice. Essentially, in the rock-star line-up that is Team Sky, Porte is happy to accept his role as one of more than a few bass players to Wiggins' frontman. It's part of what makes his upcoming ride at Paris-Nice so special.
"I've done Paris-Nice the last three years so I know what to expect going in to it," Porte said. "It's nice to have an opportunity to ride for myself. It doesn't happen that often in Sky."
Being at the forefront of a team's ambition is not a new experience for Porte. He was of course thrust into the spotlight in 2010 with three stages in the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia, and in the GC's top 10 for the duration of the race, eventually claiming the best young rider classification - all as a neo pro for Saxo Bank. But this 71st Paris-Nice is set to be an altogether different experience for the über-relaxed Tasmanian.
"I think when you go into it knowing that the team's going there to help you, it's a little bit more nerve-wracking than rocking up as a neo pro with no pressure and things just happening out on the road," Porte explained.
"But having said that I think I'm in quite good form now. If it comes down to a climber's race then I think I should be around the mark. But it's Paris-Nice (laughs) and there's a surprise around every corner, or a cross-wind or bad weather around every weather."
Porte has some quality support in his bid to take honours in the eight-day stage race, with Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (or "Jonny three names" as his teammate dubs him), along with Belarusian pair Vasil Kiryienka and Kanstantsin Siutsou. And he'll need it with the likes of Andrew Talansky (Garmin Sharp), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Robert Gesink (Blanco), Jacob Fuglsang (Astana), Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R), along with perhaps Andreas Klöden (RadioShack-Leopard) and Denis Menchov (Katusha) all in the GC mix.
The high-stakes nature of racing on offer at Paris-Nice means that it's a WorldTour event that Porte doesn't necessarily enjoy and he knows that there is not one stage where he'll be able to relax should he be on course for a result. He rates his own form as being better this time last season, but at the same time he's in a much better position health-wise leaving him with an overall positive outlook for the race.
Friday's Queen Stage mountain-top finish on the Montagne de Lure is certainly key to any hopes that Porte may have but at 6.6% gradient, he doesn't rate it as being "that hard". Instead with his time trial form often a window into his own bigger picture, Sunday's Col d'Eze chrono will be telling.
"I think I've done some good work with my time trial bike on the road but it's not a normal time trial is it. It's an uphill time trial," Porte said. "Col d'Eze is in my backyard and I've been doing it quite a lot in the last couple of weeks so if I don't have a good time trial there it's not because I don't know the roads."