Ineos Grenadiers were at pains to stress that they had no designated leader when they announced their Tour de France line-up last week but, while Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz are the obvious choices, Richie Porte is certainly an outsider worth watching as the race develops.
The 36-year-old arrives at the Tour as part of the British squad for the first time since 2015 and, after a stellar win in the Critérium du Dauphiné, looks to be in the best shape of his life.
What’s more, after last year’s podium in Paris with Trek-Segafredo, the Australian will line up in Brest well aware that he can compete among the very best.
"As it stands, I know what I came back to the team for and that’s to help someone like Richard, Geraint, or Tao Geoghegan Hart but, at the end of the day, if I’m there or thereabouts and it works for us to have guys on GC, then our rivals can’t just let me ride off into the sunset," Porte told Cyclingnews as he lined up for his first pre-race test for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
"Geraint, Tao, and Carapaz are the ones with the runs on the board when it comes to finishing off Grand Tour wins but you just never know what will happen. We have to get through the first nine stages and then go from there," he added, perhaps with a memory of the two Tours in which he crashed out on stage 9.
Porte knows that Ineos Grenadiers' main strength in this year's race will be their collective depth, with an eight-man team that boasts three Grand Tour winners. Last year’s first and second in the race, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) head into the race as the men to beat and the two biggest favourites but the consensus seems to be that Ineos have the potential to isolate their two Slovenian rivals during the first week and then in the mountains.
Depending on how the race opens up, an in-form Porte could benefit from such a scenario.
"For sure, last year I was on the podium. I know that I was a few minutes off the other guys but it’s a possibility that I could be a card to play," Porte said.
"At the same time, I’m happy to get in there and help for the team to win."
Ahead of last year's Tour de France, it genuinely looked as though Porte’s top-level career was on the wane. Bad luck and illness had ruined his 2019 campaign but at the Tour the following year, with the pressure off, he attained his best result in a Grand Tour.
A move back to Ineos followed and, despite a blip in Paris-Nice at the start of the year, he has returned to his best over week-long stage races.
"I never in my wildest imagination thought that I could be second in Catalunya, and then do the same in Romandie and then to finally tick a box at the Dauphiné," he told Cyclingnews.
"That was absolutely incredible and it’s just nice to be back in this team and still win bike races at 36 years old. I didn’t expect that to be honest and my last win in Europe was probably Tour de Suisse in 2018 and I kind of thought that would be my last European win, so taking the Dauphiné was very unexpected."
Porte puts his turnaround down to the environment at Ineos and, while he has no regrets about leaving the team back in 2016 to pursue his own ambitions, he’s well aware that at Ineos he’s just one of the riders capable of performing in stage races and Grand Tours.
"I think it’s when you come to a team like this and it’s just so focused. They have the numbers there and maybe not having all the stress and the pressure on my shoulders. There are other guys, like Geraint is the big leader here, so to be in the shadow a bit works quite well for me," he said.
"I had to leave and do that. I don’t regret that. I rode with BMC, which was a fantastic team, and I really enjoyed my time at Trek Segafredo but I had to do that, not just from a financial point of view but to have my own opportunities. I understand that there are some guys on the team who are better and I was always going to be a bit further down in the pecking order but it was the right choice.
"I also think that coming back was the right decision too. It’s been an incredible journey but here at the Tour, I’d like to be part of a winning team. I know it’s not going to be easy with the Slovenian guys but we do have strength in numbers. It’s one of our strong points."
Editor in Chief - Cyclingnews.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.