Richie Porte said he felt "weaker" than before being hit by gastroenteritis on Thursday, but the BMC Racing leader insisted that he would be present at the Vuelta a España start line on Saturday in Malaga.
Speaking to journalists outside the team hotel near Malaga, before he and his teammates started on a training ride this Friday morning, Porte - looking a little paler than usual but as determined as ever - said he "should be able to find my legs come Sunday."
The idea that he would ride for the Vuelta's general classification, Porte repeated, was one that neither he nor his team had ever argued was feasible. "You hear of yourself being one of the [Vuelta] favourites but I don’t feel like that," he said. "I'm certainly nowhere near what I was in the Tour."
Porte explained that the gastroenteritis "started this time yesterday [morning] in a training ride, which I had to cut short, had a pretty rough day, then I could sleep most of the afternoon, you never like to miss press conferences and team presentations but I was really not in a state to go and attend that."
Prior to the late setback, Porte said his build-up to the Vuelta had not been ideal. The Spanish Grand Tour is his first race since the Tour de France, where he crashed out on stage 9 injured.
"I had a bit of time off the bike after the Tour, the Tour was terribly disappointing, it takes its mental toll, it hasn't been a great run-in. Hopefully we’ll come out of the Vuelta in better nick than going in." As if to underline his 'non-favourite' status, Porte will be first man off for BMC in the opening time trial, and will roll down the start ramp as the 19th rider of the Vuelta peloton.
There had been one big silver lining to his Tour setback, Porte said. Recently becoming a father, he said, it was “nice to have a bit more of a life at home with a little son, for sure, that helps you to overcome the disappointment of crashing out.
"But from a sporting side, I wasn’t able to get out on the bike, and the weather’s been fantastic down there in Monaco. It was frustrating, but I'm able to start the Vuelta and it should be a great race."
Porte's last participation in the Vuelta stretches back to 2012, when he was principally on domestique duties for then Sky teammate Chris Froome. On his own account, Porte took sixth in the mid-race rolling time trial in Galicia, then finished second on a summit finish in the lunar landscapes of the Bola del Mundo near Madrid in the third week.
Like in 2012, when he was a key climbing lieutenant for Bradley Wiggins en route to his first Tour victory, the Vuelta will be the second Grand Tour for Porte. And as in 2012, Porte has, he says, an eye on doing well in a stage in a third week.
"I'll take things day by day, and see where it finishes. If I can go for a stage in the final week, if I have the legs to do that, I’d be really happy, the big goal is to come here and prepare for the World Championships," he pointed out.
Whilst Porte will therefore be present for the Vuelta, one notable absence from the BMC Racing line-up will be Tejay van Garderen. “Tejay was always going to the Vuelta from the outset, but you can't tell, it's easy to say that at the start of the year I want to do the Tour and Vuelta," Porte argued.
"At Utah he found that he was fatigued. It's disappointing [for the Vuelta] but he can podium there in the time trial at the Worlds and that's his big goal."
Before the Worlds comes the Vuelta, though, and as for who the top favourite could be, given he has counted himself out, Porte said that it was hard to say.
"Maybe you'd have to look more at the guys who've not done the Tour because a lot who do the Tour come out super-tired. So maybe I'd pick someone like [Fabio] Aru. There's also the young Colombian superman [Miguel Angel López] with Astana, he's doing very well. But it's a pretty open field."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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