After a difficult opening 10 days to the Tour de France, Trek-Segafredo leader Richie Porte has since been quietly climbing the GC and heads into the Alps on Thursday sitting 10th overall after 17 stages. The next three days in the mountains will define Porte's race and determine whether it has been a success, with the 34-year-old telling Cyclingnews that a stage win would be a greater achievement than a top 10 on the GC.
Porte is roughly a minute off ninth overall, and his podium chances are slim given the competition that lies ahead of him, but with some time to play with, he suggested that he could be an unmarked man when the race tackles the three Alpine stages before Sunday's final stage in Paris.
"Realistically, of course, you'd take the stage win over 10th on the GC, but we'll see how it is. It's not been an easy Tour, and you can see the fatigue in the peloton. I'm looking forward to the next three days, getting them done, and then finally getting to Paris," he told Cyclingnews at the finish of stage 17 in Gap.
Porte's podium chances faded before they ever really began. His team lost time in the team time trial and the Australian was then caught out in the crosswinds on stage 10 to Albi, and cracked on the Col du Tourmalet – this year's first summit finish in the Pyrenees on stage 14. There have been bright moments, however. He was strong in the Pau time trial, where he took fifth, and he then climbed well on stage 15 to Foix, and has been steadily climbing the overall standings since then.
The Alps will offer a different style of terrain than the one we saw in Pyrenees. The climbs in the Alps tend to be longer and steadier in pitch. Porte believes that one of his former teams – Team Ineos – will look to assert control on stage 18, which contains around 50km of climbing along with the Col d'Izoard and the Col du Galibier before a descent to the finish.
"It will be a different style of racing in the Alps," Porte said. "If Ineos control it, then it's good for Geraint Thomas. He's strong on those long climbs. It's going to be interesting. My plan is to follow, and then try something, as I shouldn't be a marked man. It's easy to say that now, but the problem is getting to the finish line."
Porte also ruled out racing the Vuelta a Espana with a "definitely not" when asked by Cyclingnews whether he might go to the Spanish Grand Tour. Porte has been active since January, when he won a stage and finished second overall at the Tour Down Under. Most of his season was blighted by illnesses, but his Tour form suggests that the Alps could define not just his race but perhaps his season as a whole.