Porte’s Paris-Nice win could open doors for GC future in 2014

Orica-GreenEdge could be perfect fit for Tasmanian, who is Australia's next hope for the grand tours

Photo: Graham Watson

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LEON, Spain (VN) — Richie Porte’s dramatic victory at Paris-Nice on Sunday not only confirmed his talent, but could also see him swapping teams for 2014 in a push for grand tour success.

The 28-year-old Porte won two stages en route to the overall title at Paris-Nice and the biggest win of his budding pro career. With his two-year contract with Sky up at the end of this season, Porte’s winning ways will surely garner interest from teams looking to sign a proven winner.

The fourth-year pro from Tasmania said he’s not sure how far he can go. Winning Paris-Nice is one thing; taking on a grand tour is something else.

“When will I race for the yellow jersey? I don’t know, to be honest,” Porte told VeloNews last week. “That’s not a big concern for me at the moment. I really haven’t been racing my bike that long professionally. I still feel like I have a lot to learn.”

Porte made a splash in his rookie year with Saxo Bank at the 2010 Giro d’Italia, riding to seventh overall, winning the best young rider’s category, and holding the pink jersey for three stages.

Since then, he’s been notching consistent individual results, including the overall at the 2012 Volta ao Algarve, as well as riding in support of the likes of Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins, and Chris Froome.

With his determined victory at Paris-Nice, it’s obvious he’s been taking notes.

“This is the best team to serve your apprenticeship, put it that way,” Porte said of Sky. “You learn so much, especially with Brad and the year he had last year. He was ready for every race. He’s a great rider and a good guy.”

Is Porte’s apprenticeship over? That may not be the million-dollar question, but is a very interesting one facing any young pro with GC possibilities.

There will certainly be several teams interested in a rider like Porte, a proven winner in one-week stage races with untapped grand tour capabilities.

Staying with Sky could well be a possibility, but the most obvious choice would be a move to Orica-GreenEdge. The homegrown Australian team is deep on sprinters and stage-hunters, but does not have a legitimate GC candidate on its roster.

Team boss Shayne Bannan said Orica is no hurry to shift its focus to grand tours, but the availability of Porte could change things. A Tasmanian, Porte is already close to many on the team and would be a natural fit.

Simon Gerrans, who lives near Porte in Monaco, said the Paris-Nice victory was an important step in Porte’s evolution as a rider. What that means for the future remains to be seen.

“It’s a massive feather in his cap,” Gerrans told VeloNews. “To win Paris-Nice, it shows he’s really come of age over the last couple of years. He’s got to consider his options, whether he’s happy to support Froomy and Wiggo, or whether he wants to take a chance to lead a team in GC. He has to start thinking about his future, but speaking with him the past couple of days, he’s pretty happy where he is.”

Gerrans is one of Orica’s team leaders for shorter stage races and the one-day classics, but admitted that the Aussie team doesn’t have a strong GC option for the grand tours.

Whether signing Porte would solve that remains to be seen, because Gerrans said a strong grand tour push requires a team-wide commitment if there is any realistic expectation for success.

“It takes more than signing one rider to have a winning GC team. You cannot just sign one guy and expect him to start winning grand tours,” Gerrans said. “There is a support system that goes along with that: riders to support him, coaches, staff, both on and off the road. It’s quite a process to create a GC candidate.”

Filling Cadel Evans’ shoes

Whether he stays with Sky or takes an offer from a new team, Porte is well positioned to be Australia’s next grand tour star.

Cadel Evans, who became Australia’s first Tour de France winner in 2011, turned 36 in February and is coming off an illness-plagued season at BMC Racing.

The 33-year-old Michael Rogers, another Aussie rider with grand tour aspirations, is now riding in a support role at Saxo-Tinkoff behind Contador.

There is some promising young Aussie talent coming up, including reigning Aussie time trial and road race champion Luke Durbridge and Michael Hepburn, both at Orica. Both are 21 and former trackies who still have a long road to go before proving they can compete at the elite level.

Porte is clearly the top Aussie grand tour prospect right now. Whether he takes that chance in the 2014 transfer market to try to evolve into a Tour contender or stays at Sky as a super-domestique will be interesting to watch.

In the meantime, Porte is hoping to return to the 2013 Tour in his proven role as a support rider for Wiggins and Froome. And that’s no easy feat considering the depth of the Sky roster.

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