Richie Porte may not have the experience of fighting for victory in the Tour de France but Team Sky is hoping the Tasmanian can grab his opportunity and hold his own against Astana's Vincenzo Nibali and Tinkoff-Saxo's Alberto Contador on Sunday's tough mountain stage to La Planche des Belles Filles.
Porte kept a low profile during stage 9 to Mulhouse, riding near the front of the peloton, protected by his teammates and saving as much energy as possible for Monday's 161km stage and the seven categorized climbs that will make it such a difficult day in the saddle. He also opted to avoid the media before his date with destiny but on Monday afternoon we will know if Porte remains a real overall contender, and Plan B and replacement for Chris Froome, or if he is destined for a lesser role, at least in this year's Tour de France.
Porte is considered an understudy to Froome but has shown his Grand Tour ability in the past and is physically mature at 29, after four years in the WorldTour with Saxo Bank and Team Sky. He has ridden seven Grand Tour and this is his fourth Tour de France. He won the best young rider classification at the 2010 Giro d'Italia, after riding an intelligent race, and has learnt a lot from riding for himself when winning Paris-Nice in 2013, and riding for Bradley Wiggins and close friend Froome while at Team Sky.
"He has quite a lot of experience of what it takes to win a GC without having done it. He has quite a lot of learning from that," Dave Brailsford told journalists outside the Team Sky bus in Mulhouse.
"What we have experienced in the last few years is Chris riding with Bradley and learning a lot, then putting that to use himself. Then Richie has ridden for Froomey – and particularly last year, he rode ever so well for him – and you learn a lot from that."
Porte has also learnt from Contador, after riding for the Spaniard in both the 2011 Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.
Taking advantage of the Nibali-Contador showdown
Team Sky may be without defending champion Chris Froome, after he crashed out on stage 5, but the team no longer carries the responsibility of a race favourite and can adopt a different race strategy. Like others, they will likely try to take advantage of the expected showdown between Nibali and Contador.
"We would be crazy not to. You always have to be ready, alert and look for your opportunity. For the time being, there are two teams slugging it out with each other. Let's see if we can capitalise on that," Brailsford suggested.
"If you are in our situation and there are two big characters, two big teams, who are looking to lock horns, our game plan has to be more about biding our time and taking our chances, and waiting for the right moment."
Porte made it clear he is ready for his big day out as soon as Froome left the Tour de France.
"I've got an opportunity to step up and I'm really going to do that now," he said the day after Froome went home.
"It doesn't change a whole lot for me. I'm in good form. Now I'll ride for myself and not somebody else. We'll see what happens."
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