After more than six weeks without competition Richie Porte (BMC Racing) returns to racing on Tuesday at the Tour de Romandie. The race marks the Australian's first head-to-head against Chris Froome (Team Sky) on European soil this season and will offer the chance for both riders to test their form ahead of July's Tour de France.
Porte's last outing came in March's Paris-Nice where won a stage on the Col de la Couillole but saw his GC aspirations go up in smoke on the cross-wind stages. Porte has since taken an entire week off from training and spent time with his wife's family in the England before returning to his base in Monaco.
"It's the first time that I'll get a good measure as to where I'm at compared to Froome," Porte told Cyclingnews in an interview conducted on Friday.
"I know he's won the race in the past, but I don't know where he's at in terms of form. He's coming down from altitude and I've had a bit of a break. I showed at Tour Down Under, when I hadn't raced since August, that I can do some good training and come into the race fresh but quite fit."
Unlike Porte, Froome is yet to win this season, having only raced the Herald Sun Tour and the Volta a Catalunya. The British rider has won the Tour de Romandie twice during his career, although he missed out last season.
The route for this year's Tour de Romandie features a number of mountain stages and two individual rides against the clock. The race organisers have turned away from long ascents, and instead focused on stages that suit aggressive and punchy racing. That said, the final time trial on the last day could prove to be the most critical stage of all. Porte has not yet studied the route in full but he and his BMC Racing teammates were set to recon parts of the race before Tuesday's prologue.
"It's designed so that the climbs are steeper in the beginning and we don't do any super long ascents. The last time trial is supposed to be hard but it's a tricky one to call on paper. It's been designed to try and keep the race close until the end. A lot will depend on how aggressively we race. It's a prestigious race so I want to go there and try and do something on GC."
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Porte has had a mixed relationship with the Tour de Romandie in the past, having won his first race as a professional in 2010 at the event. However, he failed to finish last year due to illness and was forced to skip the 2014 edition, again due to poor health.
"I've not finished the race since 2013. It's a funny one for me because it's where I won my first race as a neo-pro. I've had some good performances there, but there's a bit of a hoodoo for me given the last couple of years. I just want to stay healthy and get to the final time trial.
"Going to Manchester, putting on a bit of weight and freshening up, that's mentally prepared me," he added, before discussing what beating Froome would mean for his season and the Tour de France build-up.
"It's more of a mental thing to be honest. To win races is the best for your mental side. Who knows how Froome is going but there are other Tour contenders there. All the races between now and July give you an indication of where people are at, but the Tour is still quite a long way away."
Porte will line-up with arguably one of the strongest teams in the race, and a number of the BMC roster are expected to race the Tour in July. The squad have already announced that Porte is their leader for Romandie, but in Tejay van Garderen they have a second option. The American is building up towards the Giro d'Italia and will be looking for a result to boost his confidence ahead of the Italian race. Porte and van Garderen have not raced together since last year's Tour de France, where the American cracked and Porte secured his best result in the race.
"With Tejay there it gives us another opportunity to work off each other. I don't think there's another team there with two strong GC guys. I've not raced with him this year so it will be interesting to see where he's at so close the Giro."
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