Richie Porte travelled to the Giro del Trentino late on Monday afternoon, preferring to let directeur sportif Dario Cioni head out on his bike and study the key climbs of stage 2 of the four-day race in the Italian mountains.
Cioni, a professional between 2000 and 2011, finished fourth overall in the 2004 Giro d'Italia and will call the shots from the Team Sky car next month as Porte targets the first Grand Tour of the 2015 season.
Porte has recently returned to his European base in Monaco after a block of important altitude training on Teide with teammates Chris Froome, Nicolas Roche, Leopold Konig and Wout Poels. The four-day Giro del Trentino will be an important stepping-stone on the way to the start of the Giro d'Italia in San Remo on May 9. It will be the final race for the Tasmanian, the Anglo-Italian directeur sportif and the riders and staff at Team Sky who will spend most of May with Porte in Italy as he pursues the maglia rosa.
"I think it's going to be good to see where my form is at," Porte said on the Team Sky website, regarding his return to racing at the Giro del Trentino.
"I'm not sure exactly how I'll come out of altitude. Sometimes you're flying and other times it takes a little bit to get going. But I'm really looking forward to my last hit out before the Giro.
"I think this season I'm back to where I need to be. Obviously Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya went well. Being able to win those big races is good for your confidence. I'm trying not to get caught up in the pressure of it and just trying to look at it as another race. But I think for me it’s my big opportunity to go and lead a big race for the team. And whatever happens, happens."
Cioni has again done most of Team Sky's reconnaissance of the key Giro d'Italia stages. Earlier on Monday, he was spotted riding the Passo Santa Barbara climb that overlooks Riva del Garda at the northern tip of the lake.
"I hope Richie doesn't ride the climb at my speed but I think me looking at the roads by bike can help understand what a key climb is really like. On the bike you feel the changes in gradient you sometimes don't see in the team car. It was a surprise to see how tough the stage was, especially the first big climb (the Santa Barbara)," Cioni said during the pre-race press conference before attending the directeur sportif meeting.
"The decision to bring Richie here to Trentino wasn't casual. We’re convinced it’s a good race to prepare for the Giro d'Italia. It has a good field and good stages too; it should be a good race. I'm not sure if we can win the opening team time trial but we'll be hoping to win overall come Friday."
Team Sky used lesser-known races to help Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome learn to handle the pressure and responsibility of Grand Tour stage racing and the Giro del Trentino will be a vital last race for Porte before the adventure over three weeks at the Giro d'Italia.
"Grand Tours are special and anything can happen, they are rich with stories of crisis amongst the expected favourites. Things have gone well with Richie in recent months. He's stepped up a level this winter and was a lot leaner at the Tour Down Under. We're confident and think that his development and maturity will help him avoid having bad days at the Giro d'Italia," Cioni explained.
"Richie's been at altitude and has been working hard. Like other riders for the Giro d'Italia we think it's good to bring them here. It's a chance to check and experiment before the Giro. The Giro d'Italia team time trial is a lot like the team time trial here and we’ve got about 50 per cent of our Giro d'Italia team here at Trentino.
"It's a pity that Aru is not here. It would have been good to see them race together, but there are other good riders here like Pozzovivo and his Ag2r-La Mondiale team. It should be a good race."