In his first outing as team leader, Sky’s Ritchie Porte proved his worth with a pair of bravura rides which landed him atop the podium of the 2013 Paris-Nice cycling race.
After spending 2012 as a super-domestique for Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Porte showed in Paris-Nice that he has the riding ability and the tactical sense to lead the team, possibly in the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
“I can’t believe it. The first Aussie to win such a big race and it’s just an honor to have my name up there with Bradley Wiggins, Tony Martin and all the big champions,” Porte said on the Sky website.
“I woke up this morning and I knew that I had good legs. After the armchair ride that I got from the team yesterday—as well as on stage five and for the entire week—I knew I’d be in good shape. The guys were just incredible this race.”
Porte exploded out of the peloton on the uphill finish to Stage Five, taking the both the stage win and the race leader’s yellow jersey. he covered repeated attacks by then-race-leader Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Sharp, then launched his own attack, beating the young American to the line by 33 seconds.
Porte followed that with a stellar ride in the Stage Seven time trial, finishing 23 seconds ahead of Talansky, himself an excellent time-trialer.
Porte finished 55 seconds ahead of Talansky in the General Classification, time he gained in the two stages where he beat Talansky by personal effort. But it was his wise use of his powerful cadre of team mates which demonstrated his fitness as team leader.
In Stages Five and Six the 28-year-old Tasmanian (officially listed as the first Australian to win Paris-Nice) followed the traditional Sky tactic of moving to the front of the peloton and raising the pace so high that no other riders could mount a successful attack.
Nothing could stop the attacks in Stage Five’s decisive Cat 1 mountaintop finish, but Porte made sure his team mates did the work of bringing back the early attacks, leaving the Tasmanian rider fresh enough to mount his own charge when everyone else was exhausted.
With a 32-second lead heading into the final stage, Porte could have turned in a mediocre ride and still finished first. Instead, he dominated the 9.6-km uphill time trial from Nice to Col d’Eze, proving that he was by far the fastest and most fit rider in the race.
A pair of 24-year-old Americans, Andrew Talansky and Tejay Van Garderen, showed that the U.S. has a strong future in cycling.
Takansky took over the race lead in Stage Three by beating Ritchie Porte in a bunch sprint after staying with the leaders over three categorized climbs, the first of the race. The young American turned in another good performance over seven climbs in Stage Four, not contesting the sprint but crossing the line a few seconds later with his GC lead intact.
Where Talansky came up short wasn’t in form or tactics but in team mates; Garmin didn’t have any riders who could protect their team leader up the ascents, so he ended up riding solo through the final five stages.
BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen also made a strong showing, finishing fourth in GC. Fifth after Stage Five, he dropped to sixth in Stage Six, but advanced two places with a fifth-place ride in the time trial.
Ag2R’s Jean-Christophe Peraud finished fourth in the time trial and third overall, 1:21 behind Porte.
Porte’s future with Sky, at least for this season, could be complicated. While he aced his team leader test, his team mate Chris Froome has been leading a second Sky continent in the Tirreno-Adriatico race in Italy and is currently first in that race. On top of all that, Bradley Wiggins is the unquestioned team leader for the Tour de France. With only three Grand Tours per season, will each get one?
Chris Froome got his chance in 2012, leading Sky in the Vuelta a España and finishing fourth. Will Porte get his shot in May’s Giro d’Italia?
Not according to Porte.
“I don’t feel like I’m ready to lead at a Grand Tour yet,” he stated. “My goal is to go to the Tour and support Chris and Brad. Do that and maybe next year I could potentially lead Team Sky at the Giro.
“I’m still doing my apprenticeship and I’m still learning off Bradley and Chris [Froome]. I don’t expect to go to the Tour and ride for general classification. I’m in a good place at the moment and I don’t want to change anything.”
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