Chris Froome's chief lieutenant keen to improve on 2014 season

Richie Porte has downplayed his status as race favourite ahead of the Tour Down Under but his zeal to win the first WorldTour event of the season should not be underestimated.

The 29-year-old cut a lithe figure at a press conference today where he emphasised a desire to return to form and deliver on promise in what is a contract year with Team Sky.

“I don’t really see myself as a race favourite. Cadel [Evans] is going well and then there is Tom Dumoulin [Giant-Alpecin], who can climb and sprint,” said Porte. “There are many, many favourites here but I’m in good form and I’ve got a really good team. To be honest, I’m just looking forward to getting the racing started now and see what I can do.”

>>> Who wants to win the Tour Down Under?

Porte celebrated his first and only stage victory of 2014 on Old Willunga Hill in Adelaide, Australia prior to travelling to Europe where illness plagued the rest of his season. The newly crowned national time-trial champion believes the stage five hill-top finish will decide the general classification of the race he again has title aspirations at after a fourth overall result last year.

“Last year Willunga was about the highlight of my season so I’d like to be good on that again,” he said. “It’s going to come down to Willunga to settle the race.”

>>> Tour Down Under route: stage by stage 

Porte has a strong team that includes British national road champion Peter Kennaugh, Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard, Chris Sutton, Luke Rowe and Salvatore Puccio to aid him in his ochre jersey endeavour. He embarked on an informal December training camp with team-mate and friend Chris Froome in Tasmania, which perhaps has already paid dividends. The all-rounder gained confidence from a convincing victory at the Australian national titles earlier this month and a result at the Tour Down Under would surely add to the momentum.

Porte has identified the Giro d’Italia as a major objective after his first opportunity to lead Sky in a Grand Tour there last year was affected by illness. The chance to captain the dual Tour de France winning outfit was a contract sweetener when he penned a two-year extension in 2013.

“My confidence last year took a fair old beating. I thought it was going to be a little easier than it was, riding the Giro, big opportunity, great team behind me,” he said. “But I came back to Tassie in November and I’ve done two good months. You can count the nights that I had out on the piss, as we call it, on one hand. This year I’m ready to step it up.

“My big goal is the Giro and I’m so motivated to go there in great form,” he continued. “Starting the year I think the mental approach to things too I need to believe that I can start winning these races.”

Stage one of the Tour Down Under begins Tuesday with a 132.6km relatively flat run from Tanunda to Campbelltown. Cadel Evans will lead the BMC team in what is the last UCI WorldTour race of his highly decorated career prior to retirement.

>>> Tour Down Under TV schedule

German sprinter Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin) will hope, like last year, to kick his season off with a win at the preceding People’s Choice Classic criterium tomorrow.

Twitter: @SophieSmith86