Richie Porte (Saxo Bank-SunGard) tackles Paris-Nice with the memory of last year’s race still fresh in his mind. Twelve months ago, he suffered in what was one of his first major races as a professional, but this time around he approaches the event confident in the knowledge that he is now a very different rider.
In the absence of defending champion Alberto Contador, who has opted for a lighter programme at the Tour of Murcia, the Tasmanian captains Saxo Bank-SunGard with the aim of winning the “race to the sun.”
“My form is certainly getting there,” he told Cyclingnews on the start line of stage 1 in Houdan. “I have much more experience than last year. When I came here last year, I wasn’t prepared at all. It was the hardest race I did and I expect it to be the same this year.”
A neo-pro with Saxo Bank in 2010, he discovered at Paris-Nice just how hard professional cycling is. After the race, he had a serious discussion with team manager Bjarne Riis and directeur sportif Bradley McGee about the weight he had to lose and the amount of training he had to do.
Taking that advice on board, he went on to win the time trial of the Tour of Romandie and the white jersey of best young rider at the Giro d’Italia, where he also wore the pink jersey for three days. Since then, he has become one of the most sought-after riders on the cycling market. There is obvious interest from the future Australian team GreenEDGE to make him their captain for the Grand Tours, but he appears at ease at Saxo Bank-SunGard. “It’s a happy team this year,” he noted with satisfaction.
Last week at a team training camp in Mallorca, Porte showed equivalent abilities to Contador’s in testing and he seems pleased to have the Spaniard on board.
“We form a very motivated team,” Porte said. “We’ll be the underdogs in a lot of races. We’re ready to fight. Contador is our undisputed leader and I’ve stepped up into the role of second GC rider. My race programme allows me to do that.”
Contador’s situation is still pending, as the UCI has yet to decide on whether or not it will appeal the Spanish Federation’s decision to clear him, and Porte will not cross paths with his teammate at a race until at least the Tour de France. The Australian will forgo the Giro this year as he builds towards July.
“I’ll ride the Tour regardless of what happens to Alberto,” he said. “But I’d like to ride the Tour for him. To do that alongside the triple defending champion would be a unique experience.”
Before that, Porte has got Paris-Nice in his sights. “To have a 27km time trial this year is good for me,” he added. “I have a good position on my time trial bike now. But I don’t think I have enough experience to win this race yet. I’m super motivated and I’m a much more mature rider now. I’m ready to fight.”