Opinion

Porte for Tour de France yellow... cold shower time or hype train?

It's that time of year again and perennial Tour de France favourite Richie Porte in the conversations of cycling fans Down Under getting excited for cycling's biggest spectacle.

The ink is barely dry on the results sheet and while it's right and proper to fully celebrate what was a tremendous win for Richie Porte at the Critérium du Dauphiné, I, like no doubt any others, am eagerly anticipating seeing him at the head a procession of Australian stars at the Tour de France from June 26. 

It was the sort of showing from Porte at the Dauphine that has had Australian fans salivating in the past, looking very much the strongest of the general classification men at the race on the climbs and strong against the clock. In past Tours and at one particularly ill-fated Giro, it has been the other things that have brought Porte's campaign to heel, crashes on Stage 9, unlucky mechanicals, the occasional off-day, there's rarely been much of a chance for the Tasmanian to showcase a perfect race on the biggest stage. 

Brief flashbacks of those moments played through my mind when he calmly pulled over to swap bikes with 50 kilometres left of the final stage of the Dauphiné, memories of 2016 Tour de France's early time loss, or even battling back over the gravel last year to keep the final podium within reach.  

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This time there was to be as little drama as possible, Porte and INEOS Grenadiers look assured throughout, some bad luck with a crash for teammate Geraint Thomas and attacks from GC contenders made things look precarious, but a combination of Porte and some helpful inter-GC tactics helped the Australian contain things and take out his first overall win at the traditional Tour de France lead-up race after taking two runner-up finishes in the past.

The Dauphiné is generally viewed as the key race for the Tour de France, the Tour de Suisse is regarded as finishing a bit too close to the three-week race and there's a long history of winner from the French one-week race going on to win the Dauphine, especially if those riders are from INEOS Grenadiers. 

Geraint Thomas won both races 2018, Chris Froome did the double twice in 2016 and 2013, with Bradley Wiggins completing the feat in 2012. Porte's form is as good in the high-profile one week races as it's been since 2015, his last with then-Team Sky, when he won Paris-Nice, Volta Catalunya and Giro Trentino enroute to a Giro d'Italia plagued with bad luck and then supporting Froome to Tour de France glory again.

This year, a crash that forced an abandon of Paris-Nice was no sign of things to come, as he's only been beaten by in-form teammates since, second to Adam Yates in Catalunya and second to Thomas at the Tour de Romandie. If there's any flaw to be found, it's that he hasn't matched up with Tadej Pogačar or Primož Roglič, the Slovenian pair the class GC riders at present.

So, with a purple patch of form and seemingly few matching him on the climbs at present, will Porte compete with the aim of going for another podium, or perhaps the overall win at this year's race? 

"I'm under no illusions," Porte said when asked about his Tour de France plans. "I'm here to help out. I think that the way Tao (Geoghegan Hart) and Geraint and those guys helped me, I'd love to repay them.

"I don't need the stress and pressure – I don't know how they do it. For me, this feels like a Tour de France victory."

That statement says a lot. For most the Tour de France is the pinnacle of the sport, but Porte has stated a number of times in connection with his off-season move to INEOS that he's not looking to lead and indeed welcomes the role of super-domestique at the big races that many fight to break out of. Porte paid tribute to key teammate Thomas who helped out in key stages of the final stage, returning from his late crash and neutralising the final section of the race.

"Full credit to Geraint because coming into this race he said he was all in for me and come July I'll hopefully be returning the favour for him and help him to win the Tour," said Porte.



That said, there are possible rays of hope for Australian fans hopeful of another set of winter evening huddled under blankets following the progress of the Tasmanian battler. INEOS have notoriously had very deep climbing rosters heading into races, but most of the way through the Wiggins and Froome era (bar the 2012 Vuelta), it was the leader at the start of the race that remained the leader to the end of the Grand Tour barring a crash. 

That changed in 2018 when Froome, coming off an incredible Giro d'Italia win, clearly wasn't the strongest on the climbs and Thomas took over. A year later and it was Egan Bernal who went into the race with a co-leadership position alongside Thomas, one that persisted well into the race with Bernal even referencing Thomas as the 'primary leader' into the final week of the race he won. Tao Geoghegan Hart won the 2020 Giro d'Italia after starting as the key domestique for Thomas, stepping up after the Welshman crashed out.

INEOS approach this year have seen their clutch of elite climbers put into the race and led out by the key domestiques to the base of the climbs, and let the climbing legs or the seconds gained in the time trials largely decide who's the leader in the critical moments of the final stages. This allows more flexibility in changing race situations and maybe it takes the pressure off the likes of Porte, just one of many that could take a great result rather than the sole focus for the team and the media across three weeks of high-pressure competition.



While INEOS' long list for the Tour de France includes three Grand Tour winners, in Thomas, Richard Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan Hart, Porte is not out of his depth in that company. If he's the strongest 19 days before the start of the race, he'll likely be one of the best at the event.

At the end of the day, the legs will tell at the Tour de France, and even at 36 years of age, Porte's are looking just as lively as ever.  

Every moment of the 2021 Tour de France will be live on SBS, with the ŠKODA Tour Tracker app, SBS TV and the SBS Cycling Central the place to be to catch all the pulsating action from France from June 26 to July 18.


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7 min read
Published 7 June 2021 at 2:00pm
By Jamie Finch-Penninger
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