The late announcement that Richie Porte would ride in support of Alberto Contador at the Giro is likely to hurt him on the results sheet in the short-term but could be of great benefit in the long-term, writes Matthew Keenan.
With each passing day the list of Australians heading to the Giro d’Italia start line grows. The most notable addition being Saxo Bank-Sungard's inclusion of Richie Porte to the list of men on duty to support Alberto Contador.
The inclusion is likely to hurt Porte on the results sheet in the short-term but could be of great benefit in the long-term.
After finishing seventh in last year’s Giro, and winning the best young rider’s jersey, Porte’s stocks have appropriately risen. The late call up to support Contador is further evidence of how highly he’s valued at Saxo Bank-Sungard.
Porte’s inclusion is also due to this year’s Giro shaping up as the toughest grand tour seen in a long time. After previewing a few of the key mountain stages both Carlos Sastre and Contador said it’s likely to be the most grueling race of their careers. Given their respective climbing credentials I’ll take their word for it.
Significantly Porte was only added to the nine-man SaxoBank team after Contador did a reconnaissance ride of the key high mountain stages. But Porte won’t be the number one man at Contador’s side.
The two main climbers to support Contador will be Jesus Hernandez and Daniel Navarro. They were both with him at Astana and made the move across to Saxo Bank-Sungard almost as part of a package deal. These are the two guys the team will now expect to be alongside Contador on the stages with mountain top finishes.
Porte’s role will be to reduce the burden on the Spanish lieutenants were possible. His last minute inclusion in the team means his form won’t be at its very best despite a strong performance at the Tour de Romandie. Until now his season had been focused on reaching peak form for his Tour de France debut in July. Making quick adjustments to the timing of reaching top form is almost impossible.
Therefore, I expect Porte to be doing the lion’s share of the work on the early climbs of the big days in the mountains. His horsepower will also come in handy for the opening team time-trial.
Unfortunately the difficulty of the course and the work he’ll be called upon to do will all have a negative impact on his ability to perform at the Tour de France.
The absence of Ivan Basso, as the defending champion, shows that even the most experienced riders see it as almost impossible to ride a solid Giro and back up again at the Tour.
Further endorsement of this theory is seen in Cadel Evans also skipping the Giro in favour of preparing specifically for Le Tour.
My fear is that Porte’s inclusion in the Giro d’Italia, on such short notice, will prevent him from reaching his best at any point throughout the season. Doing the Giro could leave him flat at the Tour. And doing back-to-back grand tours may leave him flat for the rest of the year.
But that’s the nature of being a professional cyclist. Only the outright leader of a team gets complete control of their racing program. For those further down the food chain, the sacrifices aren’t only made on the road sheltering a team leader from the wind, they’re also made in what races they get to ride.
On the up side, as a 26-year-old, in just his second professional season, seeing the pressure faced by a team leader while riding alongside Contador at the Giro will be a great learning experience for Porte. One that could hold him in good stead when he is the outright leader.