Richie Porte: Team Sky not as strong as in previous Tours

BMC leader shifts the pressure back to defending champion

After Chris Froome's opening act on Wednesday, it was the turn of Richie Porte and his BMC Racing ensemble to deliver a Tour de France performance at their pre-race press conference. In a packed auditorium, Porte took centre stage and made light of the tag of favourite that has been anointed upon him by Froome before delivering a claim that Team Sky are not as strong as they once were. In the phoney war of mind-games, the two top favourites for this year's race have proved that they are in Düsseldorf with their best lines well rehearsed.

"Chris has won three Tours and there's no reason he can't win a fourth," Porte opened with calmly as he found his voice before reaching for his big numbers.

"He's the big favourite here. I think he's going to be in a lot better form that in the Dauphiné and he knows how to take the pressure, obviously."

Shifting pressure appears to have been one of the key objectives for Porte and Froome in the last few weeks. No sooner had Froome finished the final stage of the Dauphiné before he publicly stated his former teammate and super domestique was the man to beat. In almost every interview since then Froome – who rarely goes off-script – has reiterated the point. When Porte was quizzed about his status and Froome's tag, the Australian gave a wry grin before delivering his own interpretation of the situation.

"I think that's one of the games that they play," he said.

"At the end of the day behind closed doors, I'm sure that they think that they have the guy to do it. He's got the track record but Chris is obviously the one with the biggest target on his back. He's the defending champion and it's not going to be between just him and me. It's more than a two-horse race."

Having given Froome a taste of his own medicine, Porte then decided to raise the bar. The two remain friends off the bike but the Australian couldn't resist bringing up the strength and depth of his former team. Only time will tell if the suggestion that Sky are vulnerable was a wise one to make.

"If I look at the team now it's a lot different to when I was there. I'm not sure how they've prepared. Nico [Portal] probably knows their tactics a bit better than I do, but I don't expect them to let us roll away and win the race. Sky probably isn't as strong as in past years but how that affects their tactics, I'm not sure."

Building momentum from January to July

Porte's season began with a victory in the Tour Down Under and he has barely put a foot wrong since. He claimed a stage in Paris-Nice – although he fell out of contention in the overall during the opening stages – and went on to win the Tour de Romandie with a commanding performance.

He was arguably the strongest rider at the Dauphiné but missed out on the overall victory after claiming that Froome and others had ganged up on him during the final stage. His status as Tour favourite is certainly warranted given the gap between him and Froome during their final outing together.

Flanked by the eight riders who will support him over the next three weeks, Porte gave almost every one of his teammates a special mention, praising both their strength and their willingness to fight for his cause.

"Of course the season has gone well so far but this is the biggest race and this is the biggest goal. I've got eight incredibly talented teammates who support me. It's a fantastic team and we'll do our best. The podium in Paris is the goal and we've got the right team."

Earlier this month Robert Millar wrote that the kicking Porte received on the final day of the Dauphiné will serve him well if he learnt his lessons. Two weeks on, the 32-year-old was asked if he had used the experience in a positive way.

"We were incredible the day before on the Alpe d'Huez stage. The guys were incredible. It's a shame that the race panned out like that. I would have loved to have won that race, but perhaps next year. You learn from experiences like that and I think that I learned that when people gang up on you, it's going to lead to hard racing. That's in the past now so we'll move onto the Tour. Hopefully that doesn't happen again but the Tour is a different race. Hopefully that's an isolated experience."

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