BMC Racing’s general classification leader Richie Porte wasn’t at the unveiling of the 2018 Tour de France route, but his directeur sportif Valerio Piva believes that the Australian will be happy with what was laid out before the audience at the Palais des Congres on Tuesday. Tour organiser ASO detailed a race that will test the general classification riders’ ability to adapt to all terrains.
Porte, who came into this year’s race as one of the big favourites but crashed out dramatically on the descent of the Mont du Chat on stage 9, will once again be BMC Racing’s leader at the French Grand Tour.
“I need to speak to him, but I think that he will like it,” Piva told Cyclingnews following the announcement. “He’s a good time triallist and a good climber. If I remember correctly, I think that he was 10th in the Roubaix stage when Froome crashed [Porte actually finished 20th in 2014 - ed.] so I think that it will be a good Tour for him.
“I’m convinced that this year, if he hadn’t crashed, he would have been one of the contenders, but we need to focus on this year and work to have him in good condition, motivated and avoid these risks of crashing. I think he will be motivated to fight and to try to do the best in this Tour.”
Porte will hope that his 2018 campaign will go better than it did this year, but he will have to navigate an opening week that could prove perilous for the peloton in general. From the first stage, which will pass over the infamous Passage du Gois, there are any number of days that the general classification riders could give away a fatal amount of time.
“For sure it is for climbers, but at the beginning of the Tour it is possible to lose a lot if you’re not prepared,” explained Piva. “It’s a very difficult Tour with a cocktail of everything. From the beginning, we have a flat stage with the wind, a team time trial, a hilly stage with two times up the Mur de Bretagne, and the stage to Roubaix.”
The team time trial will have struck fear into the hearts of several GC riders, but for two-time world champions in the discipline it provides an opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and some others and perhaps an early stage win.
“The stage in Roubaix will be very demanding. It has 16 sections and 22k of cobblestones; it is long. It will be a very dangerous stage,” said Piva. “We have Greg van Avermaet, who is the winner of Paris-Roubaix, he would be happy to have a stage like this. Of course, when you start with a leader for the GC then you need to protect him and to try and get through this stage without accidents.”
Time and again on Tuesday, riders and sports directors expressed the importance of the support network, particularly in the first week. That team selection has been made a bit harder with teams being reduced to eight riders for Grand Tours. Piva says that it will make it harder to control the race, but the reduction in team sizes will not impact too hard those teams that were already very strong.
“For sure, it will be hard with one rider less at the start. We need to build a team with a good balance and with riders around Richie and Greg, but that will be the challenge for the next months,” said Piva.
“From my opinion, I think it was done so as not to have such a strong Sky team, but they have such the quality of riders, so it changes nothing. I think it will be more a problem for a team where they have just one leader, there they will have a problem with one rider less. We will still have a strong Sky, I don’t think that will change. It will be more difficult to control the race. It will be interesting and we will see how things turn out with the new rules.”
Porte was not at the at the Tour de France presentation as he prepares at home in Australia for a brief return to racing at the Japan Cup later this month. He has been out of action since his crash at the Tour, where he was left with a broken pelvis and collarbone as a result. It will be a short test for the Tasmanian native before he turns his focus on the 2018 season.
“He’s OK. He’s back on the bike already and he will do this race to do a 're-start' and to be back on a bike in a race. He will go home and re-start normally I think in Down Under, but for now, the programme is not decided.”
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