Paris-Nice race director Christian Prudhomme of the ASO may have said that Team Sky's withdrawal of defending champion Richie Porte in favour of a more suitable Tirreno-Adriatico in lieu of an injured Chris Froome a "cavalier move." but Porte insists that is indeed not the case.
"I totally understand the remarks from the ASO," Porte told Cyclingnews on Sunday. "Paris-Nice is an historic race and very important to the ASO, and also it's very important to me too, as it was the first big race I won in my career.
"I don’t think they should see it as a sign of disrespect. I guess sometimes people have to make hard decisions and that’s what we did."
The hard decision came after reigning Tour de France champion Froome withdrew from Tirreno citing back problems thus leaving a gaping hole in Team Sky's GC plans.
"I have been professional now for years and I have never done Tirreno," said Porte of the week-long race commonly referred to as the 'Race of the Two Seas' due to its route between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatico coasts of Italy. "I have always done Paris-Nice and other than last year it has always been the race I've always been the most nervous about all season.
"I looked at the Paris-Nice parcours this year and it was not one that suited me. If the Paris-Nice course was the same as last year, I would still be racing Paris- Nice, but it’s not. It’s a different race with the same name."
With Porte's departure from Paris-Nice, teammate Geraint Thomas will now be given the reins. With Thomas' promotion, fellow Sky rider Ben Swift was called up for Saturday's Strade Bianche, finishing 53rd overall, thus allowing 2012 Tour winner Sir Bradley Wiggins to make the switch to Tirreno as well and sit alongside Porte at the start.
Porte says that the decision to make the switch came from team officials, and that Thomas is up to the challenge of filling his royal shoes in Paris.
"I have been training with Chris and Geraint quite a lot, and it was obvious Chris had some discomfort in his back and they rightly decided to pull him out to get on top of it early in the season. As for Geraint, he is moving very well and is in great condition. He will do fine."
As far as any leadership issues between Porte and the 2012 Olympic time trial gold medallist – reminiscent to those between Wiggins and Froome at the 2012 Tour – Porte assures Cyclingnews that all team roles are understood for Tirreno. He said: "Wiggo has changed his focus this year, in Tirreno he is riding in support of me.
"His goals are more for time trials, and his goal [at Tirreno] will be to have a great team time trial and then finish off the race with a great individual time trial,” added Porte referring to the 16.9km team time trial from Donoratico to San Vincenzo on stage one and the 9.2km individual time trial from San Benedetto del Tronto on the final stage seven.
"For me, I will go there and look at the GC and have a good go at that."
As for any other riders the 29-year-old Porte has his eye on at Tirreno, one name clearly stands out – 37-year-old compatriot Cadel Evans. Porte and Evans have already faced off twice this year en route to their much-anticipated showdown at the Giro d’Italia in May, including the Australian men’s National Road Race Championships where Porte finished third to Evans’ second behind winner Simon Gerrans, and fourth behind Evans' second – and Gerrans' first – at the Tour Down Under to mark the start of the 2014 UCI WorldTour season.
At the TDU, Evans took stage three over the infamous Corkscrew, while Porte pulled out an impressive queen stage victory riding away from Evans over Willunga on the fifth day.
"Obviously Cadel rode yesterday in Strade Bianche and was up there attacking," said Porte of Evans' seventh-place finish over the 197-kilometre course in Tuscany on Saturday. “He is obviously in good condition and you don’t finish in the top 10 unless you’re are ready to go.
"He won Tirreno in 2011, so I think he is ready for a fight."
Other riders on Porte's radar include Nairo Quintana, Joaquim Rodríguez and former teammate Rigoberto Urán.
"Quintana was good in San Luis, Rodríguez has had a more relaxed start to the season, and Urán was good in Oman as well," said Porte, who himself finished second at Ruta del Sol in February. "As much as I am not getting very caught up in it you do keep an eye on the results to see who's where.
"I came back to Europe to do Ruta Del Sol which is a very hard race and I've had a very hard two weeks of training and that’s all I can do. I'm very happy with my form."
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