Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) returns to the Herald Sun Tour this week for the first time since 2011, and starts on Wednesday as one of the favourites to take the title at the conclusion of the five-day race, along with EF Education First's Michael Woods.
Besides Woods, Porte also names Team Sky's Kenny Elissonde as a rider that he'll be keeping a close eye on.
"I think Woods was good at the Tour Down Under, but, for me, Elissonde was brilliant there, and also at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race," Porte told reporters on Tuesday, recalling the Frenchman's strong ride on Willunga Hill at the TDU and his aggression on Challambra Crescent at the Cadel race.
"He's a punchy little climber who will do well here," Porte continued, "and Dylan van Baarle is also in good form. He was quite impressive at Cadel’s race, so Sky have a good team."
Porte is also looking forward to being among some of his younger compatriots at the race that starts on Phillip Island, south of Melbourne, and finishes in the Victorian capital on stage 5, via the Jeeralang climb with its 1.1km gravel section on stage 2 and four ascents of the famous Arthur's Seat climb on stage 4.
"It's a great level of talent here, and it's nice to come back and race here," said Porte. "It’s where my roots are, really, racing these kind of races. I'm looking forward to seeing these new guys.
"There’s a young guy here from Tasmania called Zach Johnson [Drapac-Cannondale Holistic Development Team] who I've been training with, and he's climbing super well. Hopefully guys like that can show their hand and have a good race, too."
The race kicks off with 22 laps – 97.9km – of the Phillip Island MotoGP Circuit for Wednesday's opening stage before the climbing starts on stage 2 on Thursday.
"The MotoGP circuit could be interesting if the wind is like this," a windblown Porte said. "I think Thursday looks pretty solid as well, as it’s a good climb in the final. We haven’t looked at it, though, so it'll be a nice surprise.
"I think the Arthur's Seat stage [on Saturday] is obviously going to be the crucial one," he continued. "I've done Arthur's Seat before and it's not a bad climb, and it'll be interesting to see how the Aussie guys go, as they'll be motivated for what is for many the biggest race of the season, so we’ll just see how it plays out."
In his third race for his new Trek-Segafredo team, Porte says there's no pressure or stress on him or his teammates, but admits that they'd like to try to win stages.
"Not just me, but others guys, like Will Clarke, who deserves opportunities," he said. "And if it's still all together on Saturday, then for sure we'll try to do something [for the overall], but that's everyone's plan, I guess. I'm looking forward to it."
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