This Giro d’Italia is the 17th and final Grand Tour of Porte’s career. The teams have changed over the years, and so have the circumstances, but the demands the mountain makes of the man remain the same. A Beckettian line of thinking tends to take hold when the gradient starts to bite: You must go on. I can't go on. I'll go on.
On the Blockhaus last Sunday, Porte produced a searing effort on behalf of his Ineos Grenadiers leader Richard Carapaz. He pared the front group down to the quick and teed up the Ecuadorian’s acceleration before eventually swinging off with a touch over 4.5km to go, nothing more left to give. Porte wore a smile when he wheeled to a halt at the summit, but it was hard to say it was out of satisfaction at a job well done or out of relief that this was all nearly over.
“Do you know what? It’s enjoyable when the race is on like that,” Porte told Cyclingnews in Santarcangelo di Romagna on Wednesday. “I mean, even on Mount Etna [on stage 4], it was probably the most enjoyable effort I’ve done in a long time.”
Porte’s final season as a professional has seen him return to an old role. Twelve months ago, he was one of several potential leaders in Ineos’ Tour team after his victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné. At the Giro, he has been designated as Carapaz’s last man in the mountains from the outset, reprising the task he performed so strikingly on behalf of Chris Froome almost a decade ago.
“Last year I won the Dauphiné, but at the same time, it’s nice to be able to switch off a little bit on days like this and not have to fight in the crosswinds,” Porte said. “I have a defined job to do and that’s to help Richard on the mountains. I’m enjoying it.
“It’s great when you’ve got someone like Richard, who’s just up for taking the race on every day: he’s aggressive and he’s absolutely flying. I wouldn’t want to be racing against him. Last year in the Tour, with Pogačar and these guys, I wouldn’t say they were unbeatable, but we’ve got a different mindset here. We’ve got a really good group of guys committed to the cause, and that’s getting Richard in pink in Verona.”
The emergence of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) has certainly complicated Ineos’ task in July, as, of course, will the absence of Egan Bernal this year. Yet while Pogačar’s superiority brooked no argument at last year’s Tour, Ineos’ muddled tactical approach to the race still drew criticism. More recently, former Ineos rider Rohan Dennis suggested that the team had been overtaken by his new squad Jumbo-Visma in terms of commitment to detail.
“Funny enough, in the press conference before the race, they were saying how we didn’t have a good season last year, but we won pretty much everything on the way in. Egan [Bernal] won the Giro and then we had a podium in the Tour with Richard,” Porte said.
“I remember being on the podium in the Tour the year before and it was probably the crowning achievement of my career, but now it was apparently a disappointing result. It’s just one of those things, but this team’s set the bar so high. And despite what Rohan Dennis says, we’re probably still the benchmark team.”
Ineos have, in any case, been the point of reference for the gruppo at this Giro. Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) still carries the pink jersey, but Ineos continue to dictate the terms at key moments, riding as though Carapaz – second at 12 seconds after picking up a time bonus on stage 11 – were already in the race lead.
Despite his onslaught on the Blockhaus on Sunday, however, Carapaz still had company at the summit. On the evidence of that stage, a clutch of riders – including Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) – are competing at a markedly similar level to Carapaz, but that isn’t likely to provoke a change of strategy from Ineos. The familiar train will continue to run when the race hits the Alps this weekend, with Porte and Pavel Sivakov the last carriages ahead of Carapaz.
“I think more it’s about getting me further up the climb and getting Pavel further up the climb. That’s probably more our tactic,” Porte said. “Blockhaus was a weird climb to ride, it’s so steep and it wasn’t very regular. But hopefully there’ll be a bit more fatigue on the legs in the coming days and then at the weekend we can really shake it up.”
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.