LE VALTIN, France (VN) — The highlighter jerseys of Tinkoff-Saxo burned through the rain and fog, pressing hard to dispatch anyone unable to keep pace. A lone black and blue jersey tucked inside the mass of color.
Richie Porte’s team would normally have been at the front, turning the screw slowly and popping off riders one by one. Not now.
“They [Tinkoff] are riding sort of like Sky usually do,” Richie Porte said after stage 8 of the Tour de France. “I guess … they were good today, but I guess it’s a little bit hard for Astana. They have had the jersey for almost a week now.”
This race changed drastically when Chris Froome abandoned. And that seems to be suiting his teammate Porte just fine. He climbed into third on the overall classification Saturday with a strong ride in the first of three punchy stages in the Vosges.
“I’m happy with how that went. It’s not really my bread and butter, that short sharp stuff. But I’m happy enough with how it was and it puts me in quite a good position,” he said. “I’m a little bit behind those guys on that stuff, but maybe in the longer climbs I’m going to be a little bit better.”
Porte sits 1:58 down to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and 14 seconds back of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). He isn’t going unnoticed, either.
“Richie Porte is also very strong and he will be a dangerous rival. He was going to be the last man for Chris Froome, and now he is the leader of a powerful team like Sky,” Nibali said. “We could see today that he is strong, and he will be a man to watch in the fight for the podium.”
Porte’s riding easily backed up what he said about his condition before the test of the short finishing climb.
“It’s as good a condition as I’ve ever been. It’s been a bit rough start of the year, but now I think I am back where I need to be,” he said. “I am an outsider, it’s unrealistic to be thinking about winning the Tour. I am certainly aiming for that podium. That’s my big goal now, to be as close to that to Paris as I can be. It’s a chance of a lifetime.”
Porte also said the new role didn’t change much for him, and that he was as fit as ever. Of course, the expectation changed plenty.
“I was sort of forced into it. To be totally honest, doesn’t change that much for me. I was always going to be up there fighting for it,” he said.
Porte held up well under pressure Saturday, losing just seven seconds to Contador and four to Nibali. Sunday’s second day in the Vosges is another lumpy affair but without an uphill finish. The racing will be hard, with a Cat. 2 right off the bat, but Monday sees the peloton finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles, a steep, taxing climb that tore the group apart in 2012, with Sky driving the pace and Froome taking the stage.
Porte heads into the big days confident, and ready, even with a team that’s down two men.
“They brought this team to help Chris win the Tour,” he said. “We lost [Xabi] Zandio [Thursday]. Now there are seven of us, it’s a lot quieter at the dinner table, now we’ll see how it goes.”
Porte was slated to lead the charge at the Giro d’Italia this season but illness kept him at bay. Now, he’s leading the Tour charge.
“It’s a bit of a blessing in disguise to miss the Giro, but with Chris’s bad luck, I think it’s worked out well for myself,” he said.
Andrew Hood contributed to this report.