• Porte enroute to victory at the Tour de Romandie (AFP)Source: AFP
His form is superb, he looks as fit as ever and by all reports is training the house down. Gone are the mental processes that have seen him lose confidence after set-backs. Richie Porte is set to become the next Australian Tour de France winner.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

4 Jun 2017 - 5:46 PM 

It was evident on the roads in the Adelaide Hills as Porte steam-rolled his way to a maiden Tour Down Under win. Skinny, with lean, hard muscle in his calves, he put away the competition imperiously on the hilltop finishes up to Paracombe and Old Wilunga Hill. 

Surging away on the steep slopes of Paracombe and then the milder inclines of Wilunga, Porte was telling the world that noone would be able to match him on the climbs. So it has proved throughout the year. When the road tilts uphill, there are few that can match the Tasmanian and less still that can beat him. 

Climbing with an easy rolling style, Porte looks to be well within himself as he tries his initial, probing attacks, that develop into full-blown assaults once he senses weakness in his rivals. A stage win at Paris-Nice and the overall victory at the Tour de Romandie have shown that Porte is climbing as well as he ever has been and perhaps more importantly, better than his rivals.

Romandie victory a boost for Porte's Tour chances
Richie Porte laid down another Tour de France marker with a strong final stage time trial ride to win the Tour de Romandie.

So what? Does that mean that the Tasmanian will be the next Australian to wear yellow in Paris?

Porte has always been a great climber, one of the best in the world for years. He used that ability to form an unstoppable partnership with Chris Froome in 2013 and 2015 and has won stage races like Paris-Nice and Volta Catalunya before.

That hasn't translated that into a Grand Tour result. Naysayers will tell you that he never will.

Giro d'Italia campaigns were derailed by illness, injury and, most infamously, Wheelgate. An opportunity at the 2014 Tour de France saw one of Porte's 'bad days' cost him any shot at a win. Time after time, there were reasons for Porte to fade out of contention for the overall and he did every time, looking out of a race mentally before it was over on the road.

That changed at last year's Tour de France. A puncture in the final four kilometres as the peloton charged towards the Stage 2 finish and Porte had again suffered bad luck. A minute and 45 seconds lost and the negativity came out.

“It’s a disaster," said Porte. "I don’t know what really you can do - just move on I suppose."

Even recalling past incidents of bad luck and weaving it into the narrative of himself as an unlucky rider who couldn't catch a break.

“It’s kind of like last year in the Giro," Porte continued, "minus the two-minute penalty – but it probably would have been quicker to take the two-minute penalty than the wheel change that I got."

Another capitulation from there was expected... maybe even would have been allowed by the Australian cycling public, but Porte stood up strong from then on and was arguably the best climber for the rest of the race, the only one who could consistently go with Chris Froome and even drop him on occasions. 

The fifth place in Paris was the former triathlete's best result in a Grand Tour and the manner of it was yet more impressive.

You can see the new attitude that Porte brings into a race, that he has now has the ability to battle through things outside his control.

When he took a significant set-back at Paris-Nice this season, missing a split in the crosswinds and freezing rain, he bounced back immediately with a third and a win in later stages.

A cautiously slow prologue in Romandie and Simon Yates stealing a march on the queen stage didn't stop a rampant Porte hauling Yates back in, then passing him in the following day's time trial to take the overall win.

It is a much more developed and battle-hardened version of Richie Porte that we will see in action  this year at the Dauphine and the Tour de France. 

The Criterium du Dauphine is next, the key indicator to who will be on form for the big race in July.

Who knows what challenges will be thrown at the pint-sized Tasmanian? What we do know is that Porte has shown that he can and will deal with whatever comes his way.