PÉRIGUEUX, France (VN) — Team Sky considers Richie Porte a grand-tour rider for the future despite his struggles at the 2014 Tour de France.
Porte wrote in his online diary that he felt “buckled” after the final mountain stage to Hautacam on Thursday. He went into the 2014 race as plan B after helping Bradley Wiggins win in 2012 and Chris Froome in 2013, and took the reins this year when Froome crashed and abandoned in stage five.
Instead of leading Sky to Paris in yellow, the 29-year-old faded on the first big Alpine stage to Chamrousse and lost 8:48 minutes. He said later that a chest infection might have taken the best out of him, but added that he did not want to look for excuses.
Eyebrows were raised, however. Followers questioned just how reliable and durable Porte is for the grand tour job.
He placed seventh and won the white jersey in his first grand tour, the 2010 Giro d’Italia, but that was largely thanks to taking a massive gain through a mid-race breakaway. In subsequent grand tours, he put his head down, worked, and finished in the 60s to 80s on the classification sheet.
In the 2013 Tour he reached 19th overall, but that was a bit of a letdown for him after he lost 17:39 in the Bagnéres de Bigorre stage.
As the 2014 Tour arrived in Paris, Porte rebounded to take part in a breakaway that saw him last man standing before the peloton finally overhauled him with 7.4km remaining. He finished the 2014 Tour in 23rd place, 1:01:08 behind the victorious Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
But as workers rolled away the stage on the Champs-Élysées, and Sky began to evaluate its Tour de France, its preparation and its riders, it seemed Porte need not fear being relegated to the role of super-domestique.
“There’s no doubt about it,” team boss David Brailsford said of Porte’s leadership ability. “I think in the right race, in the right conditions, the right form … yes. He just needs to get into a scenario where he’s on top and he’s fighting from the front.”
Brailsford added that “absolutely” Porte would have his chance to lead a grand tour again.
“Why not?” he asked.
After the 2013 season, when Porte helped Froome win almost every stage race and pocketed Paris-Nice for himself, Sky selected him to lead its team in the 2014 Giro d’Italia. Porte, though, never reached top speed this spring. He won a stage in the Tour Down Under and pushed on through Tirreno-Adriatico in mid-march, when he fell sick and could not get going again.
“I was where I needed to be, but then I got sick, then sick again on top of that, then a few issues with my bike and things,” he said.
Sky went to the Giro with a team focused on stage wins and left Porte home to recover for the Tour. Ahead of the race, Froome said that his Porte’s training numbers were even better than his and that his Aussie mate could stand beside him on the Paris podium.
But the foul weather that contributed to Froome’s crash out of the Tour likewise brought down Porte with illness, leaving Sky without a GC leader and others wondering if Porte has the ability to lead a grand tour team.
“It knocked the wind out of his sails, to be honest. Like everything, you dust yourself down, you recalibrate, you set yourself new goals,” Brailsford said.
“Has he got the physical ability to be up there in GC in a grand tour? The answer is yes. That’s a fact. Can he do it, mentally and physically? I think he can, but he hasn’t so far. That’s a fact.”