White: Porte is the man to beat at Tour Down Under

Mind games begin in team hotel ahead of next week's season-opener

They say that the Tour Down Under is one of the most relaxed races on the calendar, but try telling that to the homegrown talent and those hunting the early volley of WorldTour points.

And at the race hotel in downtown Adelaide, the mind games between two of the rival teams began in earnest with Orica-Scott's Matt White loading the pressure on BMC Racing's Richie Porte.

"Richie Porte, 100 per cent is the man to beat," White told Cyclingnews.

"The podium will be Porte, Sergio Henao and then hopefully one of us. We just don't know the order yet, but that's the three."

White manages the only Australian WorldTour team in Orica, and as the defending champions at the Tour Down Under they head into the race with four-time winner Simon Gerrans, Colombian Esteban Chaves and pocket rocket Caleb Ewan. 

While having multiple goals – they won four stage and the GC in 2016 – White underlined Porte's threat.

"Richie has said openly that this is a big target for him. He's skipped the nationals just to be here and he’s in great shape. Both climbs suit him and he’s won on Willunga. Both him and Henao haven’t raced since the Olympics, but I’ve heard on the grapevine that they’re both going well."

On paper, White has two cards to play when it comes to GC. Chaves would not start his season at the Tour Down under simply to gather training miles, and Gerrans, although in the twilight of his career, knows how to win this race. He could be the perfect foil or Orica's Colombian climber.

"Chaves hasn't raced since October, but who has?" White said. "His form is solid but we won't know his complete condition until he goes head to head with the top guys on stage 2 Paracombe.”

That stage is seen by many as a key point in the race, with the slopes heading to the final climb enough to fracture a peloton that has yet to blow away the winter cobwebs.

"We're going in with three leaders. Caleb for the sprints, and then Simon [Gerrans] and Esteban. We'll have a fair idea of how the race will go after Wednesday. If you lose 20 seconds at Paracombe then you're done because you're not going to gain that much time back at Willunga," White said. 

"We've got Chaves and we've got Gerrans, the guy who has won the race four times. He knows how to win this bike race. He's got good legs, but the challenge for him is the two hilltop finishes, and also the approach to Paracombe is harder with more climbing before the finish.

"This race gets harder and harder and it's going to be tough to eclipse last year, when we won four out of six stages. For an Australian sponsor it's massive. We've got a tradition here and it's a hard job just to make the team. A big chunk of the team here will be our Tour de France team. We've come here with a strong squad. It's certainly not our B team. Everyone knows what we're here for."

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