Richie Porte began 2016 seemingly in good form, winning the Tour Down Under stage to Willunga Hill for the third consecutive season. That victory put him second on general classification bestowing on him the tag of favourite for the Tour of Oman this week.
However, the 31-year-old Australian currently sits over nine minutes behind race leader Edvald Boasson Hagen but tomorrow’s 180km stage, which culminates with the ascent of Green Mountain, is one that both suits him and which he has his eye on.
Porte has been notable by his absence this week, especially in yesterday’s stage, an uphill finish some thought would work to his advantage. However, Porte was dropped in a crosswind section and was nowhere to be seen in the final, despite some of the other GC contenders such as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) showing well.
To make things worse, Porte’s lack of willingness to explain the losses after the event fuelled rumours that all was not well at the star-studded BMC team he joined this season. Before today’s stage, Porte moved to dispel those rumours, telling reporters all was well under control.
“I said at the first press conference that this was just a pit-stop on the way to Europe,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s Oman and you pick your battles this year a bit better than I did last year, and my next battle is Paris-Nice.”
The French race is one Porte has won twice and he would naturally wish to go well there again, although he is looking further ahead.
“I’m not sure how many peaks I can do, but I think this year it’s two peaks, one around Romandie and one around the Tour. It’s early in the season, I don’t think you can target every race on the way to the Tour, especially not this time.”
Last year, with the Giro as his ambition for the year, Porte’s form was higher in February, following his Willunga Hill victory with a stage win and fourth overall at the Volta ao Algarve. In 2016, with his sights set well into spring, training has been less intense.
“I’ve been back in Tasmania since about Christmas time and just rode my bike,” he explained. “At the Tour Down Under I thought I was under done, but I was good. I think it’s a lot easier to be motivated there than it is in Oman. For what? Why would you come here and risk everything?”
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At 7.5 kilometres, tomorrow’s ascent of Green Mountain is longer than in previous years and Porte rates it up there with the hardest in the sport. “It’s almost Zoncolan. It’s a hard solid climb. I’m not sure, but it’d be nice to have a bit of a show there.”
With a nine-minute deficit on the general classification leaders, an overall win is out of Porte’s reach, though with a point to prove, expect his red BMC jersey to be up there with the leaders.