Richie Porte heads towards his first mountain test today as Sky's Tour de France leader in the Vosges, and is feeding off the team's support.
"I couldn't ask for more from the team," the Tasmanian told Cycling Weekly. "We've lost Chris [Froome] but I think it's great how everyone stepped up around me, it's making my job easier."
Froome crashed three times in this Tour de France, abandoned on Wednesday and on Friday, confirmed a fracture in his left wrist and right hand. Porte, who began as Sky's 'plan B', took over team leadership immediately.
Porte sits seventh at 1-54 minutes behind overall leader, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). He previewed the stage today to La Mauselaine with Chris Froome after the Critérium du Dauphiné, so he knows what is coming.
"It's hard," he said, still spinning on his turbo to warm down after yesterday's stage. "It's not much early on, but we did the recon in June and the last two climbs, especially the penultimate climb, are really hard. The last one is about position, it's steep and hard too."
The stage climbs the Croix de Moinats and Grosse Pierre passes en route to the short, 1.8-kilometre up La Mauselaine. The next day, more climbs are on the menu but the stage ends on flat roads.
Monday's stage finishes up La Planche Des Belles Filles, the epicentre of Froome's and Bradley Wiggins' troubles. Porte placed 13th that day at 1-14 minutes back.
Porte is in control of the Sky juggernaut now and he will try to wrestle the yellow jersey off Nibali in the mountains.
"It's his race to defend now," Porte said on Thursday. "I'm really looking forward to getting into it in the mountains.
"I still think the last week in the Pyrenees that's still where the race is going to be decided. Astana, they have to defend now. But they do have a good head start on the rest of us. It's going to make for an interesting race."
One person who is keeping an eye on Porte is his former employer, Tinkoff-Saxo Team Manager Bjarne Riis.
"He's strong. You look at the way Sky was racing for him as well as Froome in the first five days, that means that he could've been stronger than Froome," said Riis.
"I don't know, normally he always had a bad day but we know when he's strong, he's strong. In the years since I had him, he's become older and has more experience. He's in a good position so far."
Porte could seize his opportunity this weekend and make a dent in Nibali's lead. If all goes well in the Pyrenees, he can make a run for they yellow jersey and help Sky go three for three in the Tour.
Richie Porte riding back into shape after early season illness to assist Chris Froome in the 2014 Tour de France
Team Sky boss speaks after defending champion Chris Froome crashes out of stage five and abandons the race
Tasmanian Richie Porte says he will "take this chance to prove that I can be up there" after Chris Froome
MRI scans detect fractures in both of Chris Froome's limbs
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