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BMC: Porte is OK amid doubts in Oman

QURIYAT, Oman (VN) — Richie Porte lost time and refused to speak with press for a second consecutive day in the Tour of Oman on Wednesday, but BMC Racing says that its new star is running on track for the Tour de France.

The Australian joined the American team over the winter after helping Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome win the Tour de France three times during his four years with Sky. He should lead BMC in the Tour this July with Tejay van Garderen.

The season began well in Australia where Porte won the Willunga Hill stage in the Tour Down Under. In the Middle East, however, he lost time on both the opening day Tuesday and today. Both days, when asked, he would not speak with waiting press.

“There are no problems,” sport director Fabio Baldato told VeloNews. “Yesterday, he was already tired from his trip, so we decided not to push it into the red and use this race as a build-up for Paris-Nice. There is no need to worry for the Tour de France, and not even for Paris-Nice.”

Porte arrived from Melbourne for the race. He said at a pre-race press meeting that he would rather focus on the WorldTour-ranked Paris-Nice stage race in mid-March. When pushed for a comment today, he explained, “I’m doing what I said I was going to do.” He kept walking and refused to clarify what happened today.

Through the rocky desert lands south of Muscat, Oman’s capital, the red and black BMC train hit the front on the flats for Greg Van Avermaet, near 20 kilometers to race. At the same time, Porte slipped off the back of the group. Dimension Data came to the front, just ahead of the 2.8-kilometer closing climb, and put Edvald Boasson Hagen in place for the eventual victory. Stars Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) were right behind the winner. Porte crossed the line more than three minutes later.

“It was useless for him to fight to stay up there,” Baldato added. “The plan was not to take risks.”

Instead of erasing doubts, Porte’s press blockade created even more questions. The star Australian cyclist soloed up Willunga Hill to victory January 23 and placed second overall in his home tour. So, some followers had expected that he would ride similarly in the Persian Gulf.

“Certainly, though, he rode well in the Tour Down Under,” 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali told VeloNews. “Maybe we expected something more here, but we shouldn’t forget his talent. So, we might just need to give him some time. Maybe he’s not feeling good or there’s some problem, it happens. Last year, I was more or less the same in this period. I wasn’t very good. I tried to do something more, but you can’t when your body doesn’t respond.”

Nibali rebounded midway through the Tour de France in July to win at La Toussuire’s ski resort and place fourth overall. BMC Racing will hope for the same brilliance in Paris-Nice and of course in July, when their new star is expected to perform a double act with van Garderen.