For the last two seasons running, Richie Porte's year was ended early due to injury. In 2017, Porte recovered from a broken shoulder blade to dominate the Tour Down Under with two stage wins and a 48-second overall winning margin.
In 2018, Porte returns to Adelaide with BMC Racing Team, and is aiming to become the first rider to defend the ochre jersey, but he remains unsure of his exact form with the Tour de France his last stage race. Porte crashed out of the Tour on stage 9, his injuries including a broken pelvis and collarbone, but was able to line out at the end of season Japan Cup in October.
Third place in the time trial at the Australian Championships and an aggressive showing in the road race a few days later suggested Porte to be on form ahead of his ochre jersey defence. At the traditional Tour Down Under pre-race press conference at the Hilton race hotel, Porte felt the prospect of a fifth straight stage win on Willunga Hill to be more likely than overall victory, though his ambition remains undimmed.
"If it is not expectation to win, it is maybe expectation on Willunga," Porte said. "I would love to win another Willunga. For me personally, it would be a great way to start the season, and try to win this race again."
Porte noted that his preparation for the 2018 Tour Down Under has not been dissimilar to his build-up to last year's race.
"It is no different to how it was last year when I crashed out of the Olympic road race so it is my first race back," Porte said. "I would still love to do it [win the Tour Down Under - ed] again. For an Aussie, it is the best race to win, it is easily the best race in Australia and the biggest race. It is a great win to have on the palmarès. To see your name on the stairs as you walk into the Hilton, for an Aussie cyclist or anyone, it is quite an achievement."
Porte's first three career stage wins at the Tour Down Under all came atop Willunga Hill before he added the hilltop Paracombe stage in 2017 and his fourth Willunga Hill victory. In 2018, the new Uraidla stage finish, featuring the ascension of Norton Summit inside the final 13 kilometres, is set to add a new GC element to the race. While the finale suits Porte, he pointed to the chances of former winners and BMC teammates Rohan Dennis and Simon Gerrans.
"The stage up Norton Summit to Uraidla is not the hardest," said Porte, who is hoping for warmer conditions than the 'Baltic' weather of Saturday morning's recon. "There will be a few select guys there but I think for our team it could be good for Rohan Dennis or Simon Gerrans as well. I still think the hardest stage will be Willunga on next Saturday. It is a good course and gives everybody an opportunity to win a stage."
Adelaide local Dennis won the race overall in 2015 in his first full season with BMC and is well acquainted with Norton Summit. Of his two teammates with overall wins to their name, Porte pointed to Dennis' third straight national time trial win as a sign of his current shape and condition.
"He showed in the time trial he is absolutely flying and in fantastic form. I think he is quietly confident," he said. "The climb up Norton Summit really suits his characteristics. There is also Simon Gerrans as well so I think we have some good cards to play. If other teams want to make it tactical, we can throw any three of us up the road."