After watching Richie Porte (Team Sky) beat the field at the Australian national time trial championships in Ballarat, Matt White has described the Tour Down Under contender as the "strongest rider in the world right now."
Porte beat Hour Record contender Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) by seven seconds over the 40.9 kilometre test to kick-start his 2015 campaign. It was a dominant performance for a rider who endured a disappointing 2014 season on the bike, and White believes that Porte heads into next week's Tour Down Under as the out-right favourite for the overall prize.
"Porte is the strongest rider in the world right now and he's my tip for the race. He's the favourite and having seen him on the bike first hand, I can say that he's absolutely flying,” said White, sport director at Orica-GreenEdge.
"The time he pulled back on Dennis at the turn in the time trial was around two seconds a kilometre, which was so impressive, especially when you consider that Dennis is going for the Hour Record within the month. I've not seen Richie this small and thin since maybe the Tour de France a couple of years ago. He is a man on a mission."
Porte's 2014 season ended early with illness the main cause. He returned to Australia in the autumn and has spent the time since then honing and improving his form and fitness. That - coupled with a new-found motivation - is the reason why the Tasmanian has hit the ground running this month.
White's main objective for the Tour Down Under is to ensure that the Orica-GreenEdge team come away tasting success. They are yet to announce their roster for the race but will be without defending champion and talisman, Simon Gerrans, who is out with a broken collarbone. That loss means that the team's firepower has been reduced and the focus will shift from the overall to stage wins.
White has an impressive record in directing teams at the race, having won the overall at Garmin with Cameron Meyer as well and although Michael Matthews is also off the roster due to a late European race start, White is confident that the team can make a major impact on the race.
"The realisation is that we're not going for the GC win this year. We don't have a guy who can win the Tour Down Under so we're definitely going for stage wins.”
“The key as always is the Willunga Hill stage, in terms of the overall, and if Porte can get a good gap the tour could be over, for us we'll be hunting for stage wins throughout the race and we'll play a big part in the action, that's for sure."