By Gregor Brown
Geraint Thomas (Ineos) is the Tour de France 2019 favourite to win again, says former team-mate Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) with just two days to start.
Thomas will ride to defend his 2018 title with Ineos co-leader Egan Bernal. Without Chris Froome, Porte picks Thomas as the rider to watch.
"I think Geraint Thomas is a clear favourite, he won it last year," Porte said when asked if the race lacks a standout potential winner.
"He's probably in better shape this year too. It's a shame that Chris Froome is not here, but it does change everything. Now he has to be the out and out favourite here at Ineos and I expect them to back him 100 per cent."
Ineos named Thomas and Bernal, just 22, as their captions for the race, which starts in Brussels and features numerous mountain passes.
Porte raced for the team alongside Thomas and Froome when Sky was the title sponsor, from 2012 to 2015. He remains close to Froome, who suffered a "devastating" crash in the Critérium du Dauphiné that prohibited from racing for a fifth title.
"Of course, he's a friend off the bike and it was horrible to hear, devastating to be honest," added Porte.
"I spoken with him and the thing with him is that he is always going to come back. It's a hard one to come back from but I don't suspect we've seen the last of Chris Froome, put it that way."
Porte placed fifth at the Tour in 2016 but in the last couple years, abandoned on stage nine due to crashes. Now, racing for Trek-Segafredo, he feels liberated of the favourite tag.
"100 per cent," he responded when asked if there was less pressure now.
"I must admit, I haven't had the season I wanted to have so far, so to go into the Tour under a lot less pressure than the last few years is not a bad thing.
"I'm happy in the team. I have a good team here, we have the bases covered. Sunday in the team time trial is were it's really going to start for us as a team."
Porte won the Willunga stage of the Tour Down Under, but the rest of the early season has been up and down for him. The 34-year-old from Tasmania had to change his schedule a few times due to sickness.
"But it's nice to turn up in July and not on fumes and trying to eke out the last bit of form that I have, which has happened to me in the last few years," added Porte.
"I think the last three stages in the Alps are were it's going to be decided anyhow. I don't think it's a bad thing to to come in a little under done."
With just a team time trial on stage two and a relatively short individual time trial, the 2019 Tour could be shaped largely by the mountains. To be ready, Porte "has done more altitude than ever" in the months before in Sierra Nevada, Utah and Isola 2000. Now, he is trying to become the oldest post-war winner and top his Australian compatriot Cadel Evans, the 2011 winner.
"I think the unlucky moments, there's not much you can do about that, but Cadel was 34 when he won it," Porte explained.
"I'm not going to sit here and say, 'I'm going to win the Tour'. I want to have a good ride, not have any crap happen in the next three weeks. That'd be nice. And just do my best race."
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