• Porte: "It means so much to me. Words don't sum it up." (Getty)
The relief on his face was palpable. Richie Porte was back on track for the Tour, his number one sporting priority for the year.
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Cycling Central
13 Mar - 6:23 PM  UPDATED 13 Mar - 6:34 PM

Even if he hadn't won the queen stage of Paris-Nice, it would not have been a complete disaster. Last year he finished third overall (behind Geraint Thomas and Alberto Contador) and didn'twin a stage, yet enjoyed his best ever Grand Tour performance, finishing fifth overall at the Tour de France.

He already proved last July he can climb with the best including his former team-mate and three-time Tour champion Chris Froome. Some, like his team-mate Rohan Dennis, say he's equal to, if not the best, in the world on long uphills. It was those pesky crosswinds that brought his undoing on the first two stages of Paris-Nice, largely because he didn't have enough big guys around him and Michael Schär, the one he was counting on, fell heavily on the opening leg and will be out for four to six weeks, having fractured his right collarbone and right iliac bone. As Porte said afterwards, he and his BMC Racing team probably learned more from what went awry on those days than if all had gone swimmingly.

"It was no surprise to hear him say, 'It means so much to me. It gives an incredible feeling of satisfaction. Words don't sum it up'."

At the Grand Départ in Düsseldorf, no doubt, BMC Racing will arrive with a different line-up to the one they brought to Paris-Nice, very likely similar in composition to that which so greatly benefited Cadel Evans at the 2011 Tour. Then, it was all about keeping Cadel out of trouble in the opening 10 days. If they could keep him safe and not lose time, they surmised, he'd hold his own in the mountains and the final time trial in Grenoble - which is essentially what happened. Porte is not so different a rider to Evans: excellent though not explosive on the climbs; brilliant in difficult time trials; like most GC leaders, requires support to shelter from the wind and hold good position on the flats; preternatural endurance; and, as he admits himself, can get a little hot under the collar at times (though unlike Cadel, does not have a dog he can bring to races). "I wasn't always easy to deal with this week," he said after winning the 177 kilometre seventh stage that contained four categorised climbs.

Porte bites back at Paris-Nice
Australia's Richie Porte salvaged his Paris-Nice campaign when he powered to victory in the seventh and penultimate stage.

Before Paris-Nice began he said "a third (overall) win would give me a lot of confidence for the next part of the season". Realistically, though, given he started much earlier than most of his rivals and had not raced since winning the Tour Down Under, things could've gone either way, which in part explains the erratic nature of his results last week.

While a stage win wasn't necessary, Porte, like most, rides on confidence. (Out of the current crop of Grand Tour contenders, only Vincenzo Nibali seems able to go from zero to hero between events.) To beat riders like Contador and overall winner Sergio Henao atop the 1,678 metre Col de la Couillole, the highest finish in the 75-year history of the event, it was no surprise to hear him say, "It means so much to me. It gives an incredible feeling of satisfaction. Words don't sum it up."

Added Porte: "It's good signs for me. I have a new coach, David Bailey, who has really been good this last year and I think we are on a good path for July. My climbing is up there with the best in the world. So we'll take it race by race now, but I'm looking forward to July, for sure."

Attacking Contador falls short of Henao in Paris-Nice showdown
Sergio Henao survived an Alberto Contador onslaught to win Paris-Nice, giving Team Sky their fifth title in six years in the Race to the Sun.

His schedule till then has not been made public, though given last year worked so well, the tours of Catalunya, Romandie and Criterium du Dauphiné are likely stepping stones; the latter allowing him just short of three weeks' fine-tuning before La Grande Boucle begins with a 14 kilometre individual time trial on the banks of the Rhine.

With Contador's pistols a-firing and Nairo Quintana flying to almost certain victory at Tirreno-Adriatico as he inexorably moves towards to his Giro-Tour challenge, the likes of Porte, Froome and Esteban Chaves (the latter pair having not raced since the Herald Sun Tour) are taking a more measured approach to Le Tour. One, I feel, is likely to help, rather than hinder, their chances.