Australia's Richie Porte heads into the Alps on stage 13 of the 2014 Tour de France on Friday with a very real opportunity to consolidate his second place overall – and to perhaps even challenge Astana's Vincenzo Nibali for the Tour title.
Porte's Sky team has won the last two Tours, through Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013. But with Wiggins not selected for the British team's nine-man squad this year, and with defending champion Froome crashing out of the race on stage five, Porte has inherited the task – and the opportunity – of continuing Sky's run of Tour success.
“It was a shock to lose Chris, and then Tinkoff-Saxo lost Alberto Contador, and Quick Step had already lost Cav [Mark Cavendish, on stage 1], so it's been a strange Tour in that respect,” said Porte. “Leading the team puts a little extra pressure on me, but I've enjoyed it, and the team's been really good with me, looking after me. It's a massive opportunity, and I'm going to make the most of it.”
The Tasmanian remains 2:23 down on Vincenzo Nibali, but only now – starting with stage 13 between Saint Etienne and Chamrousse, with a summit finish at the Alpine ski station – does the Tour head into the high mountains.
“Going into the big mountain stages, I'm quietly confident about my climbing ability, having ridden for Chris in the mountains last year,” Porte said, modestly, agreeing that the real climbing comes after what has been an already-tough first 12 days.
“But it doesn't matter what the race is – whether it's the Tour or a local club race back in Tasmania. I don't think I've ever done an easy race!” he laughed.
“I don't know the Chamrousse climb that well, but I do know the one the next day up to Risoul, as we did it in the Dauphiné [in 2013],” explained Porte. “But I do know that Chamrousse is a long climb, and there's also a long climb [the Col de Palaquit] before that.
“So I think it's going to be a hard day – which may be stating the obvious!” he grinned.