Nigel Baker first spotted Richie Porte just over a decade ago.
Baker, a prominent figure in Launceston and formerly the Stan Siejka Cycling Classic’s race director, would see Porte riding the tough Scottsdale Sidling loop early each morning.
Six or seven hours later, Baker would again spot the rider – at the time transitioning from triathlon to cycling – on his return.
“From then on I just knew Richie could go all the way,” he reflects. “I have never met anyone with such a strong will to succeed – his mindset is amazing.”
Porte has certainly needed that strong mindset since leaving Tasmania for the European circuit.
Despite evident ability and a string of impressive results in prestigious races, success at the holy grail of world cycling – the three Grand Tours – has so far eluded him. Misfortune has often been to blame.
At his first proper general classification attempt at the Tour de France, in 2014, Porte was hit by pneumonia.
Two years later an untimely puncture cruelled his podium hopes.
In both 2017 and this year, Porte entered Le Tour as a favourite. On neither occasion did he make it past stage nine.
Time is running out for the lithe Tasmanian to fulfil Baker’s prediction.
In late January, Porte will turn 34. Only eight riders in history have won a Grand Tour at that age or older.
Porte’s late start to professional cycling may give him an extra year or two of peak physical ability.
But the recently-announced 2019 switch from BMC Racing Team to Trek-Segafredo could also complicate his general classification ambitions.
BMC has one of the strongest rosters in the World Tour peloton and has backed Porte’s goals with single-minded support and squads to match.
Trek will be a step into the unknown.
Since Alberto Contador’s retirement, the team has lacked a general classification contender.
How quickly Porte adapts to his new environs (which possess a noticeably less Australian flavour than his past two teams), and the extent to which Trek go all in for him, both remain to be seen.
It is with this uncertain future in mind that Porte begins his 2018 Vuelta a España campaign on Saturday, with a short individual time trial in Malaga.
Porte enters the Spanish race, which he has only ridden once before, as the bookmakers’ favourite.
Without Chris Froome or Geraint Thomas in attendance, and with the other challengers all marred by question marks of one form or another, the Vuelta provides Porte with a golden opportunity.
It might not have the same allure of the Tour de France, but victory in Spain would banish the doubters and give Porte an immense confidence boost ahead of his switch to Trek.
The seemingly endless climbing through rugged peaks, the calmer atmosphere and the Spanish heat will all favour the Australian.
Among his colleagues in Spain, compatriot Rohan Dennis, climber Dylan Teuns and veteran domestique Brent Bookwalter are all capable deputies.
With a fatigued peloton and the usual Team Sky armada missing, BMC’s strength in depth could prove decisive.
The man himself played down his chances on Friday, as he recovered from a last-minute bout of gastroenteritis.
“You hear of yourself being one of the favourites but I don’t feel like that,” he told reporters. “I'm certainly nowhere near what I was in the Tour.”
Even if the Vuelta is not necessarily a now or never moment for Porte, that reality is certainly looming ever closer.
With every Grand Tour that passes, the odds of him becoming only the second Australian to win one of these three-week epics lengthen.
Nigel Baker has one other abiding memory of Porte, who he still sees most Australian summers when the Tasmanian returns to Launceston for a training block.
“He is one of the most genuine people I have ever met,” Baker reflects.
“The fame and fortune of being one of the best cyclists in the world has not affected him at all – he is the same old Richie, always smiling and always happy to have a chat.”
Nice guys, it is said, finish last.
But if there is one rider that deserves to be smiled upon by lady luck, it is Porte.
The Vuelta is the latest opportunity for him to roll the dice.
After successive misfortune, can Richie Porte finally get lucky?