• Inspired... Richie Porte celebrates a third consecutive stage victory atop Old Willunga Hill. (AAP)Source: AAP
Despite his pedigree Richie Porte wasn't expecting to do what he did on Old Willunga Hill, but inspiration comes from many sources, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
23 Jan 2016 - 5:52 PM  UPDATED 24 Jan 2016 - 1:53 PM

"To be honest I never expected that one."

Either did I.

The last three occasions Richie Porte has ridden the Santos Tour Down Under, including this one, this year he's probably come into the race the least prepared for a top result.

"In the last five years, during the same season, no three-week tour winner has been forced to ride at the service of one of their team-mates in a separate Grand Tour."

Of course, it's got nothing to do with a lack of focus over the Australian summer, and everything to do with his desire to be at his best from July 2 onwards, when the 103rd edition of the Tour de France begins with a flat road stage from Mont Saint-Michel, and ends 3,519 kilometres later in Paris.

After nine Grand Tours ridden at the service of others - yes, even the 2010 Giro d'Italia where he finished seventh overall, his first three-week race, was nothing more than a field experiment - that has resulted in three Grand Tour victories for his respective leaders (four, had Alberto Contador's 2011 Giro win not been voided), Porte has decided 2016 is his year.

Since first winning Paris-Nice in 2013, where he beat the likes of Andrew Talansky, Jean-Christophe Péraud, second overall at the 2014 Tour, and Tejay van Garderen, twice fifth at the Tour and the man whom he now shares a co-leadership role at BMC Racing, the place he migrated to after four years at Team Sky, the staunchly proud Tasmanian has been considered a future Grand Tour contender.

Groundhog Day for Porte on Willunga Hill
Richie Porte won for the third time on Willunga as race leader Simon Gerrans limited his losses to retain the overall lead at the Santos Tour Down Under.

Don't forget, that same year, in the month after Paris-Nice, he followed that victory up with second place overall at the Vuelta al País Vasco (to Nairo Quintana), then finished second again to team-mate Chris Froome at the Critérium du Dauphiné, before helping the Kenyan-born Brit win his first Tour de France.

At a number of points during this annus mirabilis, on many a top team, he could've easily signed up to be outright leader, or the very least a co-leader, at the 2014 Tour.

In hindsight, perhaps he should have.

Instead, on May 8 that year, he penned a lucrative new deal with Team Sky that took him up to the end of the 2015 season. "While I'm more than happy to help guys like Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins in the future, I would love to lead the squad in a Grand Tour next season," Porte said, by way of a team press release.

Said Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford: "Richie has been a key part this team's stage-race success since he arrived here and this new contract is a statement of intent for both him and the team.

"Every time he has taken on a leadership role he has excelled. We saw at Paris-Nice exactly what Richie is capable of and there is no doubt that there is a lot more to come from him.

"If he maintains his current trajectory there is no reason why he can't go into a Grand Tour and challenge for victory."

So long as Richie gave his full support to Froome at the Tour, Brailsford promised him a leadership opportunity at the 2014 Giro d'Italia. Poor health prevented him from even starting, which meant he had to wait another year to try again - unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

Perhaps he discovered that preparing yourself to be a leader at a Grand Tour as tough as the Giro, then switching roles to be a super climbing domestique just one month later, burying yourself up hill and down dale, isn't really feasible. After all, in the last five years, during the same season, no three-week tour winner has been forced to ride at the service of one of their team-mates in a separate Grand Tour.

Which is why the move by Porte to BMC Racing, if he is to ever finish on the podium at the Tour, was absolutely essential.

It is no use being the Plan B; he needed the confidence of a team that told him, in the biggest bike race of all, he would be a leader from the outset. It's a mind thing.

Maybe that's where this inspired ride up Old Willunga Hill came from today.