FORCALQUIER, France (VN) — Richie Porte surged into the overall lead at Paris-Nice on Friday, one year after Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins won the race.
With Wiggins setting his sights on the Giro d’Italia, Porte has settled nicely into the team’s leadership role at Paris-Nice, delivering the double Friday up Montagne de Lure.
Porte admitted on Friday that he felt odd racing with the number of the defending champion, but said he was happy to deliver on the team’s expectations.
“It was weird to get the No. 1 bib. I felt like a bit of a wanker riding around with the number one,” Porte told VeloNews. “But to win the queen stage, I couldn’t be happier. The team has really supported me this week.”
Porte is making the most of his chance to ride in the leadership spot this week at Paris-Nice.
Last year, despite winning the Volta ao Algarve (Tour of the Algarve), he rode in the shadow of Chris Froome and Wiggins, a role that he expects to slip back into later this season for the year’s most important races.
With Froome racing at Tirreno-Adriatico and Wiggins lining up next at the Volta a Catalunya (Tour of Cataloñia), Sky appointed Porte captain for Paris-Nice. The team rallied around its young Australian and he delivered.
Sky’s Paris-Nice team is much deeper in the mountains than Garmin-Sharp, which brought a roster mostly filled with riders gaining fitness for the upcoming classics.
While Andrew Talansky has often been isolated on the climbs, Porte has been well protected. Spanish newcomer David López, who joined from Movistar, has proven a key player for Sky all week.
The Paris-Nice success is the latest in the steady progression for Porte, who also boasts a very strong time trial. He first made headlines when he wore the pink jersey and finished seventh overall at the 2010 Giro d’Italia.
After a move to Sky from Saxo Bank last year, he knew he would see less chances for himself, but it was a change that he embraced.
On Friday, he confirmed that those early successes were no strokes of luck. And he did it with the panache of a veteran, countering after three attacks from Talansky.
“The manner of victory was good because he wasn’t just strong in the legs, he was strong tactically. Talansky made a bit of a mistake and Richie knew when to attack,” Sky’s sport director Nicolas Portal said in a team statement.
“He’s learned a lot over the last year,” Portal continued. “All eyes were on him and he waited and waited before counter-attacking at the perfect time. It’s also great for the team, having a lot of new guys here. Everyone is really happy with how we rode today — not just on the final climb but the whole stage.”
Porte, who lives in Monaco during the racing season, said it’s too early to say he’s won Paris-Nice, but admits he’s in the pole position going into the two final stages.
“It’s a massive race. You can dare to dream,” he said. “I am in a good position to win. I don’t want to curse myself. I am looking forward to the time trial.”
Porte will have a clear advantage over many of his TT rivals on the race’s final day, on Sunday, because he knows Col d’Eze like the back of his hand. When asked how often he rides the climb towering above Nice, France, and Monaco, he replied with a smile: “In training, I ride Col d’Eze every second day.”
If he can manage to hang on to win the overall, maybe he won’t feel like a “wanker” for having the honor of wearing the No. 1 bib all week.