The Dauphine starts Sunday (AEST) and is a litmus test for the Tour, both of which Porte will have the full backing of Trek-Segafredo that is rumoured to have signed Vincenzo Nibali for 2020.
Porte’s debut with the US-squad he joined this season has been disrupted by illness. However, the 34-year-old cut a very relaxed figure at the Tour of California in May, his last stage race, and there was physically strong on the queen stage to Mt Baldy.
“After California, he did an altitude camp in Utah and he had a little bit of bad weather, but he managed to do his training. When he came back, he also did a good block of work in Monaco so he’s in a good place. I don’t think he’s the big favourite for the overall win, but I think looking at July, he’s in a really good place,” said de Jongh.
“Because he missed a big block of racing, he has to come back from far. I think every race he does now is just another step towards his main goal and that’s the Tour de France.”
De Jongh believes Porte is a Grand Tour contender, contrary to the doubt of some fans left disenchanted by the past two years in which Porte has crashed out of the Tour on Stage 9.
“He has shown in the past he can do good results. He’s just been unlucky either crash wise or with illness. But in the end, I consider him as a Grand Tour rider and also podium, top 10 that’s for sure,” he said.
De Jongh worked with Porte for the first time at California and will direct him at the Dauphine. The Dutch mentor believes California was a turning point for Porte, who finished fifth overall in what was his best showing since the Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour in January, after which he was felled with bronchitis.
“He was a bit unsure of course because he was out for a long time with sickness and that left him in a quite insecure place. If you’re out that long, you don’t know where your form is. It’s not really good for the self-confidence,” said de Jongh. “But I think he showed, especially the stage to Mt Baldy, that he is coming back, and his form is coming up. I think he should be really happy with the result he did there.”
The Dauphine field is stacked with Tour pre-race favourites including Chris Froome (INEOS), and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) also in the mix. De Jongh favours the Dauphine over the Tour de Suisse, which reigning Tour champion Geraint Thomas (INEOS) is slated for, as preparation for July.
“You have similar stages and the mountains are the same,” he said. “The time left to the Tour de France is a little bit earlier than Suisse and I think that’s why Dauphine is probably the nice race to test yourself. So then after that, if you lack something you still have time to work on it, you can go for another short block of altitude if you want. Whereas doing Suisse is more complicated.”