Porte: Tirreno ideal for Giro build-up

cycling, al hinds, AUS, richie porte, team sky, chris froome, tirreno-adriatico, paris-nice
Richie Porte at the Vuelta a Andalucia in Spain. The Australian finished second overall to a rampant Alejandro Valverde, but said he was encouraged by his own performance. (Fran Reyes/Ruta del Sol)

Faced with the choice of an unlikely title defence on terrain unsuited to him, or a Giro d'Italia dry run at Tirreno-Adriatico, it's far from surprsing that Team Sky opted to purse the latter course with maglia rosa hopeful Richie Porte.

Look, racing in Italy, that’s where my big goal this year is, at the Giro. It really does make more sense to be going to Tirreno.

The Giro contender was given the call up to Tirreno just a day out from lining up to defend his Paris-Nice title after Chris Froome pulled out due to a back concern. The decision led to the 'ire' of Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme who called it 'cavalier' and failed to afford the respect to the event it deserved.

But Porte, who will leave from his Monaco base to arrive in Italy tomorrow, says the move was an unemotional one. He said that he can understand Prudhomme's frustration, but Team Sky had to act in its best interests.

"I don’t think it should be seen as disrespectful," Porte said. "I understand the situation from his (Prudhomme’s) point of view, but it’s really a horses for courses thing.. For someone like myself, Tirreno is a race that suits me better."

And indeed on paper it's unlikely Porte would ever have lined up in France in the first place, but for Froome's preference to be there ahead of him. Porte, Team Sky's number two behind the decorated Brit and 2013 Tour de France winner was sent to Paris-Nice to give the team its strongest chance on two fronts.

Last year that dual pronged approach worked wonders. Porte won Paris-Nice, becoming the first Australian in the race's history to do so, while Froome, in an otherwise uncompromising performance was edged at the last by a dogged Vincenzo Nibali to finish runner up.

But with no tough mountain finishes, as there was last year with the Montagne de Lure, and no individual time trials, this year's Paris-Nice was far from a sure bet for Porte to repeat the trick.

Tirreno, where the opening team time trial in San Vincenzo plays into consecutive mountain days on Stages 4 and 5, before the race's final time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto on Stage 7, on the other hand has far more of a Grand Tour feel to it, and is far more suited to both Porte and Froome.

On Saturday, as a precaution to avoid his back complaint flaring later in the year, closer to Tour time, Froome was pulled out of Tirreno. Sky reacted quickly, throwing Porte in to replace Froome in Italy and elevating Geraint Thomas to the leadership in France. Porte said that decision "made the most sense".

"It's not like I'm not going to come back and race Paris-Nice ever again. I'd love to have come back and defended my title," Porte said.

"But you look at Tirreno, it’s got a team time trial, it’s got a hilltop finish. You know (Froome pulling out) it’s a blessing in disguise.

"I’ve never done Tirreno. Racing in Italy, that’s where my big goal this year is - at the Giro - so it really does make more sense to go there. And it'll give me a good gauge to see how the other guys targeting the Giro are going."

Porte's last race came in Spain at the Vuelta a Andalucia where he was second overall behind a rampant Alejandro Valverde. To the delight of Porte, the Spaniard won't be at Tirreno, but the race of the two seas won't be bereft of talent without him.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Cadel Evans (BMC) and young Pole Michal Kwiatkowski (OPQS) will all take their places at the San Vincenzo partenza - the only major stage racing absentees; Joaquim Rodriguez, Froome and Valverde.

Kwiatkowski fresh off a stunning ride at the Strade Bianche and the overall at Algarve the week previous appears to be impeccable condition, while Quintana's San Luis dominance do not augur well for Porte's chances in Tirreno - at the very least they'll prove major stumbling blocks.  

"But who knows what to expect," said Porte.

"Since Andalucia I’ve been back in Monaco just riding. We’ve had a good group, with Geraint Thomas, Froomey and myself, and we’re all going quite well.

"Tirreno will tell us more. What I do know is that I’ve been training well. I’ve been doing my gym, rest, recovery. I’ve been really focused on my riding and I think I’m in a really good place."

Tirreno Adriatico runs 12-19 March. The race begins with a team time trial in San Vincenzo.

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