Despite having a relatively quiet Vuelta a España for a rider of his stature, Richie Porte believes he’s still on track for a serious crack at the rainbow jersey at the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, later this month.
The Australian's primary objective for the season, the Tour de France, once again ended in disappointment as he crashed out of the race with a broken collarbone, but he has been finding his feet again on the roads of Spain.
While many assumed he'd be in contention for the overall title, it quickly became clear it was the last thing on his mind as the BMC Racing leader began to lose time as early as the first few stages. Barring a couple of innocuous breakaways, he had little impact on the race, even in the final week.
"It's been nice to come here and not be stressed with the GC and all of that. I'm kind of where I expected I would be so it's no big surprise that most days I've lost time. But I think I'm getting better. I'm certainly better than when I started," Porte told Cyclingnews at the end of the race.
"At this time of the year it's easier to be here doing such a hard race to try to find form than being at home kind of being forced to go out and do efforts. It's a hard race, with hard finishes, so it doesn't matter if you're up trying to win stages or just in the group; it's not an easy race. Even if you get dropped and ride up the climb at a decent tempo, it's better than a day's training at home where you dilly-dally around and do an effort on the climb."
Along with Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali, Porte has been riding alongside some of the other favourites for the rainbow bands, such as the Yates brothers (Simon and Adam of Mitchelton-Scott), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and the Colombian trio of Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First-Drapac) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), all of whom were engaged in the battle for the general classification.
Porte has not been riding the same race, as such, and whatever physical differences that makes, he reckons the psychological aspect may be equally important.
"It's probably easier for someone like me who's not had to ride along and worry about things like crosswinds and all the other stuff associated with riding for GC – the stresses," he said.
"It seems like once you come to a big three-week tour, it's like a pressure cooker, so for me to come out of this, I haven't had anywhere near the mental stress of some of the other guys."
Porte returned to his home in Nice on Monday, and will then fly out to Austria next Wednesday, ahead of the road race on the Sunday (September 30).
"I get a decent block at home to recover, and then do what I have to do to sharpen up," he said. "There's not a hell of a lot to do other than recover now."
Can Richie Porte win the rainbow jersey? He has only competed at four World Championships in his career, riding the time trial in 2010, 2011 and 2013, and the road race in 2012 and 2013. He did not finish either.
In fact, it's a similar story for one-day races in general. There are some GC riders, such as Valverde and Nibali, who are prolific winners of Classics, but Porte has only done Il Lombardia twice – without finishing – and Liège-Bastogne-Liège three times, finishing once. He was in the mix at the Olympic road race in Rio in 2016, but crashed on a crucial descent.
"I don't have the best track record in one-day races, as I haven't really done so many. But as an amateur in Italy, that's all I did," he said. "Racing in Italy at under-23 level was still some of the hardest racing I've ever done. It was a good apprenticeship to serve.
"When you sign pro, you either push one way or the other, and for me that's been stage races. One-day racing's not really something that I've focused on, but I guess looking forward to 2020, the Olympics are a big goal. I love Japan, and racing there, so that's a big goal for me."
Porte is relatively unfamiliar with the Worlds, but he can draw inspiration from an edition he didn't actually compete in.
"I was there in 2009 when Cadel Evans won the road race. I was there as a reserve. I saw then how big a thing it is. If you see that jersey in the peloton, it's kind of like the coolest jersey you could ever have.
"It's going to be a hard race – there's no doubt about that – but hopefully the mental freshness and the disappointment of the Tour de France can spur me on."