The road to Tour de France glory doesn't start at the Tour Down Under but nevertheless Richie Porte (BMC Racing) laid down the perfect opening season marker with two stage wins and the overall in Adelaide. Chris Froome, Alberto Contador Nairo Quintana et al will not be quaking in their boots just yet but they will have taken stock of Porte's performance.
The BMC Racing leader has been a threat at the Tour Down Under for a number of years but on this outing he displayed a ruthlessness not always seen in the past. Again, this was not the same opposition he will face in July, but the BMC hierarchy will feel a little more vindicated for splitting Porte and Tejay Van Garderen so early in the season.
"I'm coming into my prime and I realise that I don't have too many more opportunities to have a go at the Tour so I'm going to make the most of that," Porte stressed during his winner's press conference.
Thirty-two later this month, Porte has only had one genuine tilt at the Tour de France during his career, taking a top-five place last year in Paris. Until that point he had ridden as the last man for Alberto Contador and then Chris Froome and although the 2015 Giro d'Italia was a disaster, Porte is slowing improving as a podium contender at the very least.
"I don't really have a problem with that," he responded when asked if his January will make him a marked man when he returns to Europe.
"My next race is Paris Nice and I love that race. It's my adopted home race but I'm okay with that pressure. It's just in the media that people said that I was the favourite here and it never really got to me. I feel like I'm growing up, slowly as well."
Porte's career has certainly taken time to reach this point. After a promising ride in the 2010 Giro d'Italia he moved into the role of week-long specialist and mountain goat domestique for the three-week leaders. Now, however, he is the leader and his style of command is slowly having an affect on BMC. They have signed Nicolas Roche – a training partner for Porte in Europe – to ride the Tour, and other members of the team have been told that they need to peak for July. The fog surrounding the van Garderen question was dealt with swiftly, and arguably fairly, before a pedal had even turned this year this year.
"A few of the guys here will do a programme leading up to the Tour de France with me. That's been built around me for the first time ever. I've often been the plan B but BMC Racing have put a lot of faith in me," he added, perhaps pointing to Danilo Wyss, Amaël Moinard, Damiano Caruso, and Francisco Ventoso, who especially impressed.
For now though the Tour de France is a long way off and while the Tour Down Under may lack the prestige of a Dauphine or a Tour de Suisse it is still the national tour for a patriotic cycling nation who have utterly embraced this race over the years. Try telling Porte that this win does not matter.
"It's an incredible relief. If I think back to nine years ago, this where I came as a wild card and then two years later I was in the WorldTour. To win it is massive relief but I've been close two times before. It just feels fantastic and cycling in Australian is kicking massive goals when you see the crowds out here and the support."
One goal successfully kicked but many more to come.
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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