• More than just King of Willunga... Richie Porte. (Getty)Source: Getty
Not in the 19-year history of the Tour Down Under has one witnessed such an imperious performance; Richie Porte is more than just 'King of Willunga', writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
21 Jan 2017 - 5:46 PM  UPDATED 21 Jan 2017 - 5:56 PM

I don't believe it entirely accurate to label him 'King of Willunga' because when I looked up the definition this afternoon, 'king' more often than not refers to "one who inherits the position by right of birth".

Genetics have blessed him with an engine that makes him one of the best, perhaps the best, in going uphill. Certainly, the best here this week. But Richie Porte has earned the position through nothing other than hard graft, and thus I feel it more apposite to call him 'Master of Willunga', as it's been a process of learning, along with some tough lessons along the way, that has got him to this point.

"It all comes down to earning your place on the team - just as Porte did last July, and again this week."

The way he's ridden this week, in fact, it's safe to say he's not just Master of Willunga, but Master of the Tour Down Under. In the 19-year history of the race, no one has dominated a single edition quite like he. Combined, Simon Gerrans and Caleb Ewan made Orica-GreenEDGE the dominant team in 2016, winning four out of six stages including the overall - but this year, the 31-year-old from Launceston made his rivals look positively sloppy.

By consequence, however, it has meant this year's race wasn't the most thrilling: Michael Rogers in 2002, when he famously borrowed a bike from a roadside spectator; Mikel Astarloza and Lennie Kristensen finishing on the same time in 2003; Patrick Jonker's victorious swansong in 2004; Lance Armstrong choosing the 2009 edition to begin his ultimately flawed comeback; Cameron Meyer finishing two seconds ahead of Matthew Goss in 2011; Gerrans trumping Alejandro Valverde on count-back in 2012; Gerrans, again, beating Cadel Evans by a solitary second the year following; Rohan Dennis and Porte duking it out in 2015 - these editions made the Tour Down Under, at least from a race perspective, compelling viewing.

To likely end in Adelaide with a 48-second margin over Esteban Chaves and Nathan Haas, on Stages 2 and 5, it felt as if Porte were riding a different race, or at least his own.

Though as race director Mike Turtur keeps telling us, the TDU is a tourism event as much as a sporting one, and in terms of economic benefit to South Australia, it's an unqualified success. Porte said the only times he sees crowds as big as that seen on Willunga each year is at the Tour de France, which tells you how much cycling fans, especially those in Australia, have embraced such an event. For this reason, it will always be one Aussie riders and teams want to compete in; in terms of exposure, no other bike race in Australia comes close.

Tejay van Garderen, his erstwhile TdF co-leader at BMC Racing, is now down to ride the Giro d'Italia, as team general manager Jim Ochowicz told Cycling Central. Unless he can produce a similarly authoritative performance between now and the May 5 Grande Partenza in Sardinia, I don't see that experiment ending well for the American, who, on the previous two Grand Tours he's led, has cracked after the second rest day. It all comes down to earning your place on the team - just as Porte did last July, and again this week.

While we've seen one four-time victor in Gerrans and two double winners (O'Grady, Greipel), no TDU champion is yet to successfully defend his title. We've got another 12 months to find out if next year will be that year.