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After a “disastrous” 2014 season, Sky’s Richie Porte is aiming toward this month’s Santos Tour Down Under and a return to the top in Europe, perhaps with the Giro d’Italia’s pink jersey. Judging by his time trial win at the Cycling Australia Road National Championships ahead of Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) and Jack Bobridge (Budget Forklifts) Thursday, he is on the right track.
“There are a lot of people who are questioning me and my ability, but for me this year… I’ve got some big goals,” Porte told local media.
“This time trial win is a fantastic way to start it.”
Porte will start training as normal Friday morning for his upcoming goals. He will compete in the national championships road race on Sunday ahead of the Tour Down Under, scheduled for January 20-25.
The 29-year-old Tasmanian won the Willunga mountain stage last year and place fourth overall. For 2015, Sky is sending a Brit-heavy team with Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, and national champion Peter Kennaugh to support its general classification leader Porte.
The Australian stage race will be a test for the European season. After Porte packs his bags, he will fly to his European base in Monaco and focus on cycling’s historical events like Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Giro d’Italia.
Porte’s breakthrough came in 2010 thanks to a time trial like Thursday’s win in Buninyong, Victoria. In his first year with Saxo Bank, Porte won the Tour de Romandie time trial in Moudon, Switzerland. That win secured his ride in the Giro d’Italia, where he led the race and won the white jersey for the best young rider. In 2012, he joined Sky and supported Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome to their Tour de France victories.
Sky gave him the reins to its super team for the 2014 Giro d’Italia, but in the build up, he faltered. He fell sick in Tirreno-Adriatico while fighting eventual overall winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), abandoned and called off his plans to race the Giro. He bounced back strongly for the Tour, worked for Froome and took over leadership when Froome abandoned, but suffered from a chest infection and fell out of contention.
The time trial title — winning in 51:50 ahead of two cyclists targeting the hour record in the next month — could be the needed light at the end of a dark tunnel for Porte.
“The problem for me last year was my health and it looks like I am back on top of it,” Porte continued.
“I haven’t done a good time trial on a course like this for a long time. We have done a lot of work on my time trial position. Credit to [Sky’s Head of Athletic Performance] Tim Kerrison, who believed in me even after the disaster which was 2014.”
His last time trial wins were in 2013. He won the Critérium International stage 2 while helping Froome to the overall classification and the Col d’Èze mountain time en route to his biggest career win, the Paris-Nice title.
Porte wants to return to the same level this year, but with an added two years of experience in his legs. A successful return would be welcomed, too, as his contract with Sky ends after this season.
“You can count on one hand the number of nights I’ve had out drinking or letting my hair down,” Porte said.
“I’m focused. It’s a big year for me.”