Richie Porte is one of the major favourites to win this year’s Paris-Nice, which starts with a 6.7km prologue in Maurepas on Sunday and finishes a week later with the 9.5km time trial up the Col d’Eze.
Porte (Sky), 30 and the 2013 winner, has started this season superbly. He already has wins in the Australian time trial championship and the Queen stages of two tours – stage 5 of the WorldTour opening Tour Down Under to Willunga Hill in which the Tasmanian also placed second overall at 2 seconds to fellow Australian and world hour record holder Rohan Dennis (BMC), and stage 4 of the Volta ao Algarve to Malhão before finishing fourth overall at 1m 14s to British teammate and winner Geraint Thomas.
On Thursday, after winding up his final preparations for Paris-Nice, Porte spoke to Cyclingnews from his base in Monaco about his goals for the second World Tour event of the year and his thoughts about how he is tracking for the Giro d’Italia (May 9-31) in which he is aiming for a top finish in the overall classification.
Rupert Guinness: How are you feeling off the back of the Volta ao Algarve?
Richie Porte: I went into Algarve as team leader and had a shocker of a time trial [on stage 3]. I went the wrong way into one of the corners [and finished 19th at 1m 3s to Tony Martin.] There was a policeman on the corner waving his arms around where cars were parked and I got a little bit lost in the moment. But it was nice to then do Algarve with no pressure, knowing ‘G’ [Thomas] was absolutely flying. He has sacrificed for me so many times and to ride up that mountain [finish on stage 4] to protect his interest, then go for the stage and win it … it was an unbelievable day.
RG: How will you and Thomas race Paris-Nice?
RP: The first few days with cross winds, you can ride a little at the front which we have a great team for. You don’t know what’s going to happen. It will be a little stressful, so we are not going to throw all the eggs into my basket. But ‘G’ and I did Col d’Eze repeats (on Wednesday). He is climbing as well as he ever has. It’s exciting for us. It’s a tactical card we can play. There is obviously Tejay [van Garderen], [Andrew] Talansky, [Fabio] Aru and [Jean-Christophe] Peraud … [as contenders]. Bradley Wiggins will be there for us too. You just don’t know what he is capable of.
RG: What about Dennis? Do you expect he will be in the fray as well?
RP: The way he rode at Tour Down Under – okay, Willunga Hill is not as long as the climbs here - I don’t think you can discount Rohan. He is hard to dispatch. With ‘Froomey’ [Chris Froome] and me before the Tour de France in 2013, when we were both in great condition leading the Criterium du Dauphine, it was hard to get rid of him. Rohan is going to be good in the first shorter time trial. He has matured as a bike rider. He is much happier in his current team. You can’t really rule a guy like him out.
RG: As the 2013 Paris-Nice winner, do you feel any added expectation on you?
RP: Paris-Nice is one of the important races. It’s got the history. It has been won by all the big names. When I won it, I remember how good it felt. I’d love to do that again. For the confidence it is a very important race and it’s like my home race – it finishes so close to my European base [in Monaco]. I’m very, very motivated for it. We have a great team and I’m in as good a shape as I have ever been. So I’m ready.
RG: A good race will also shore up your Giro d’Italia team leadership stakes?
RP: It would. The Giro is not that far away. I have seen where guys like Alberto [Contador] are at. I am right where I need to be good in the Giro. I have been training a lot with Tim Kerrison [Sky trainer]. This year, I am doing exactly what he wants me to do. He is a guy who has two times won the Tour with [Froome and Wiggins].
RG: How will your new teammate Leopold König, who has shown his ability as an overall classification rider, fit into the team’s plans for the Giro?
RP: Like with Paris-Nice, it’s always good to have options. He is impressive. He was good in the Tour last year [placing 7th overall] and in the Vuelta [a Espana] the year before that [in 2013, finishing 9th overall]. So he is certainly a solid reinforcement.
RG: Contador will race the Giro and Tour …you raced as his teammate when he did it in 2011. What are you thoughts on his chances in both races this time?
RP: Alberto is Alberto, isn’t he? He was born to race. If he gets his recovery right between the Giro and the Tour – and I think he has a pretty good team around him now to do that … He was a level above in that Giro that year  and won and was then fifth [in the Tour]. There is five weeks between those tours. We will just have to see how he comes out [of the Giro]. I know where ‘Froomey’ is - he is probably more motivated than I have ever seen – that it’s going to be a great battle [in the Tour].
RG: You will get the first crack at Contador. You won’t be shy in taking him on?
RP: No … That team, they always like to control it and make it as hard as they can. But that’s the thing for me … if it’s as hard as possible, I enjoy that too. I’m looking forward to it, to be honest. It changes the dynamics of the race ... If Alberto is there, a lot of guys race for second … but you can only race the guys who are there.
RG: At the Volta a Andalucia Froome took the overall lead from Contador on stage 4 to Alto de Allanadas, beating him by 29 seconds to win it. What can we take from that?
RP: Neither is in top form yet. Alberto [on stage 3 to Hazallanas] was super impressive. He went from a long way out [to win it]. Maybe he was not a hundred per cent. I think he paid for that long range attack with 7.2km of the climb to go. He’s not going to make that mistake [again]. He is experienced. He knows what he is doing.
RG: Stannard’s Het Nieuwsblad win augurs well for the classics. Would Sky also being strong in the classics take pressure or off the grand tour teams?
RP: I don’t think it changes the pressure, but watching a race like that with Stannard taking on the three strongest Etixx-QuickStep riders [in the race] and beating them is a morale booster. You can’t forget that just under a year ago ‘Yogi’ [Stannard] broke his back in an accident and then he came back and crashed again. It’s just great to see him back. He has had a lot of bad luck but hopefully that is about to change.
RG: I guess success permeates throughout a squad no matter where it comes?
RP: We had a lot of bad luck last year. Things didn’t go our way. We have taken a step back and are ready to race the season. We are getting paid to ride push bikes. There isn’t anything more enjoyable. After winning the Tour two years in a row and the other successes, last year was a reality check. It’s not easy to put a team together and win the Tour year after year. It was the reality check we needed … and we got it.
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)