The one concern that the retired 2011 Tour de France champion has of what 30-year-old Porte can do in the Giro is if he will have enough in the tank after a solid five months racing block, preceded by a long and hard pre-season of training.
Speaking to Cyclingnews after he attended the Tour of Flanders for the first time – as a spectator and rider – Evans otherwise had nothing but praise for Porte.
He cited Porte’s wins in the Australian time trial title, second place overall and victory in the Old Willunga Hill stage of the Tour Down Under and wins in Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya as his principal achievements so far this season. Porte was also fourth overall in the Vuelta ao Algarve in which he also won a stage.
“He’s had a fantastic start to the year. His performance at the time trial in the national championships and Tour Down Under showed he was right there,” Evans told Cyclingnews.
“With the way the [national title] road race panned out for us favourites, he wasn’t able to show what he had. But he got to show that at the Tour Down Under on the second last stage [that finished on Old Willunga Hill] and then built on that at Paris-Nice and Catalunya. It’s a great sign and obviously he is going better than he did last year. My only concern is [whether] he has done too much too early.”
Will Porte have enough left in the tank?
Evans agreed, when reminded, that when he won the Tour in 2011 he also had a successful lead-in to the race with wins in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie, second place in the Criterium du Dauphine and seventh in the Volta a Catalunya.
But his concern is not based on how many races Porte has won, or how he has raced; but on what he will have in the tank at the brutal pointy end of Giro.
“[In 2011] I had a bit of a rest and started later. I was March until the end of July," Evans said.
“Richie is doing it from January till the end of May which is the same five months. [But] he may start to pay for it at the end of the Giro for what he did.
If anything, that Porte has been winning races regularly is ideal, according to Evans.
“Every race you win reinforces everything that you are doing, convinces you more and more,” Evans said.
Evans also encourages Porte to continue racing to win his last event before the Giro d’Italia – the Giro del Trentino in Italy from April 21-24.
“It’s a good race for the win,” Evans said. “I would go all out for it. That was my experience. A block of racing is the best training you can get.
“Some people say Trentino is too much before the Giro, but I tend to disagree.
“If you are at a good level, a five day race is not like doing five times Paris-Roubaix. It’s only a stage race, on good roads, smooth roads and they are not long stages. Richie should just take it as it comes. He has got results. He doesn’t have to convince himself. He doesn’t have to convince his team what he is capable of.”
The Giro contenders: how they fare
Evans still rates Spaniard Alberto Contador as the rider to beat in the Giro. But he believes that Porte, Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep) and Italian Fabio Aru (Astana) will all be in the fray to challenge to Contador.
Asked for his standout Giro favourite, Evans said: “Contador, but with a good Richie, good Uran, good Aru it’s going to be a really … well, solid, well established grand tour that is going to make [who wins] more interesting. The fact there are other contenders of the level of Richie - or close to him - may well work in [Porte's] favour.”
Evans had many a tussle with Contador and came out with wins and losses for them. The most poignant loss was in the 2007 Tour when Evans finished second at 23 seconds to the Spaniard.
But memorable of his wins was firstly in the 2010 Tour when he took the yellow jersey on stage eight and had an overall lead of a minute-plus on Contador before a fractured elbow sustained in a crash that day led to him losing it.
Then in the 2011 Tour he won, Evans beat Contador in a photo-finish to win stage four to Mur de Bretagne.
Evans believes any win over Contador helps going into a grand tour, and Porte should discover that in the Giro.
En-route to winning the Volta a Catalunya that Contador raced, Porte beat him on stage four to La Molina by gapping him near the finish.
“It’s crucial and especially [against] someone like Contador,” Evans said.
“He is a pretty hard nut to crack. He is a hard one. It’s certainly much better to have one over him than none. That’s going to be to Richie’s advantage. But let’s see what sort of Contador arrives at the Giro. We saw a couple of grand tours where he turned up more than unbeatable. He is not quite the rider he was five years ago, but still he is still a hard nut to crack. It is difficult to argue he is not the same grand tour rider in this current generation.”
As for the other contenders, Evans is excited to see what Uran and Aru can produce.
“I think Rigoberto is going to put up a solid fight this year,” Evans said of the Columbian who finished second last year and in 2013 when Evans placed third.
“After last year [Uran] is going to be hungrier, more experienced and a better rider. Aru is of the same level, but not as old, not as experienced … but a very good rider.”
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)