Richie Porte has defended Team Sky after they faced abuse and booing as they dominated the Tour de France. Instead of any negative sentiment, Porte called on other overall contenders such as Tom Dumoulin, Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk to join forces with him in 2019 to attack "full gas" in the hope of breaking the British team's iron grip on cycling's biggest race.
Team Sky have now won six of the last seven editions of the Tour de France with three different riders, and their strength in depth and team tactics have often stifled their rivals and limited others' attacks.
Porte rode for Team Sky between 2012 and 2015, helping Bradley Wiggins and then Chris Froome win the yellow jersey. He left for a leadership role at BMC Racing in 2016, finishing fifth overall behind Froome at that year's Tour de France. He was expected to be a threat in 2017 and 2018 but crashed out on stage 9 of both races, this year fracturing his collarbone on the cobbled stage to Roubaix. He was forced to watch this year's mountain stages at home in Monte Carlo.
Click here to read part one of our interview feature with Porte, in which he talks about his crash on the cobbled stage to Roubaix at this year's Tour, his recovery, and his hopes for the final part of the season and 2019.
Porte confirmed on Monday that he will ride the Vuelta a España, with the testing road race at the World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, another major goal. He is widely expected to move to Trek-Segafredo in 2019 for what could be a final shot at defeating Team Sky and winning the Tour de France.
"When you sit there and watch the race on television, you do see things you wouldn't have seen in the race. It definitely looks a lot easier from the couch than when you're there. To see how it panned out again this year, what do you do against a team like Sky?" Porte asks without giving up hope of somehow defeating them.
"The way they ride is just how you win bike races: you take control of the race, and that's what Sky do brilliantly. If you're good enough to attack, you have to hope that Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas aren't on a good day. That's the only way I can see to beat them."
This year, despite team sizes being reduced from nine to eight riders, and Gianni Moscon being kicked out of the Tour for violent conduct, Thomas and Froome were protected by a strong team train that included Luke Rowe, Jonathan Castroviejo, Wout Poels, Michal Kwiatkowski and, arguably the revelation of the race, Egan Bernal, who made his Tour debut at just 21.
Team Sky controlled their rivals by setting an infernal pace on the key climbs. That isolated rival team leaders, deterred them from attacking, and ultimately left them to fight for the minor placings and stage victories. It was again a successful divide-and-conquer strategy that helped Thomas win his first-ever yellow jersey and helped Froome finish third and on the final podium in Paris.
Porte hopes that he and his fellow Team Sky rivals can respond by "ganging up" on the British team in 2019.
"In 2013, Froome was isolated on one stage after the rest of us [at Team Sky] got dropped because whole peloton ganged up on us. We tried to control too many guys that wanted to go in the breakaways," Porte recalls.
"That's probably the way to take them on. The only way to beat them is if everyone keeps attacking 'full gas'. This year, guys were afraid to attack Froome and Geraint, who was actually the strongest, and was the one who profited from that the most."
Porte identified Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb and LottoNL-Jumbo duo Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk as possible members of his anti-Sky gang in 2019.
"They did fantastic races, didn't they? To see guys like that coming through was cool," Porte says, having observed them closely on television.
"I get along with both Steven and Tom, so ganging up on Sky is probably the way to do it – alhough that means you have to gamble on one of your allies getting lucky. It's also about being inspired by your allies. Working together somehow is probably the only way to put them under pressure."
In defence of Froome
Porte describes Froome and Thomas as rivals, but the two are also friends and neighbours of Porte in Monte Carlo. Porte was Froome's vital wingman in both 2013 and 2015.
Their relationship has cooled after Froome upended Porte's hopes of winning the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné, but the Tasmanian always defended the Briton during his drawn-out salbutamol case, and does so again when asked about the hostile atmosphere created at this year's Tour de France, where Froome was frequently booed, and where there were even attempts by spectators to hit him.
"This year was worse than it has been in the past. To see some guy trying to grab them… Why the hell would you do that? That's just stupid," Porte says, bluntly.
"This year there were a lot badly spelled placards on the side of the road accusing Froome of this and that. People don't like seeing Sky's dominance, but we can only hope they can do something to stop it happening again. They need to start cracking down on guys who run alongside the riders. Just look at what happened to Vincenzo Nibali. It should have never happened."
UCI president David Lappartient seemed keen to undermine Team Sky's dominance at the Tour by calling for some kind of financial fair-play rules, and to even further reduce team sizes to just six riders. Porte, like many riders, is against those ideas.
"There's been a lot made of a possible salary cap, but firstly cycling needs more sponsors like Sky. I think a lot of the crap that's been thrown around is rhetorical," he says.
"Not every team can get the best out of their highest-paid guys. Look at Movistar: they're a prime example. They've got three of the highest-paid guys, but other than Nairo Quintana winning a stage at this year's Tour, they didn't really do a hell of a lot. No disrespect, but maybe if they'd ridden like Sky did, as a unit, they might have had better success."
Porte also rejects any comparisons between Team Sky and dominant Tour de France teams of the past.
"I find it unfair what's been thrown out there. Some of these commentators have got no right to judge Team Sky. It's a different era that we're riding in compared to them," he argues.
"Watching the Tour this year, you can see it's a much cleaner sport than it has been in the past. That’s good for cycling. But if they're going to keep comparing how Sky ride to other teams who doped in the past, that's not fair."
Froome will be back in 2019
In the first part of this interview, Porte praised Thomas for his Tour de France victory. He also has kind words for Froome, convinced that he can fight for a fifth Tour de France victory in 2019.
"It's Chris Froome. He's always up for a battle," Porte says. "He hasn't had the easiest season. If he turns up next year and the Tour is his goal, then he'll be the man to beat, 100 per cent. I don't think we've seen the last of 'Froomey'. Not for a second.
"If anyone else had won the Giro d'Italia like he did, that would have been considered an incredible season. I guess Froomey put the pressure on himself to go to the Tour to try to win his fifth title. It was probably a big ask.
"It can't have been easy for him with all the stuff that was going on, and with the hostility at the Tour," Porte continues. "At the end of the day, he's only human, and that all had to get to him eventually. To still finish third at the Tour... I'd give anything to be third at the Tour.
"Chris didn't win the Tour this year, but I think next year he'll be all-in to win that fifth title."
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