MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — Richie Porte says he has more pressure on his shoulders riding with BMC Racing than he did as a member of Sky. He switched teams over the winter to co-captain the Tour de France with American Tejay van Garderen.
The Australian arrived in Oman’s capital city of Muscat over the weekend. It seems pleasant enough, with palm trees, warm air sporting 75-degree temperatures, and the ocean a few miles away. However, the cameras are already pointed Porte’s way and the attention on him is building ahead of the Tour of Oman and an important season with his new team. After helping Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome win the Tour, Porte is now truly one of the leaders.
“It’s a little bit more pressure I suppose,” Porte said of his new leadership role. “I’ve never been able to target the Tour de France in July, so it’s quite exciting.”
Porte arrived in Oman on his way from Australia to Europe. This week, he will race against stars Vincenzo Nibali of Astana and Tom Dumoulin of Giant – Alpecin in the Tour of Oman.
After winning the Santos Tour Down Under’s queen stage and placing second overall last month, much is expected from Porte, who hails from Tasmania. The same expectation exists for the rest of the season with his new chief status.
Porte rode for Wiggins in the 2012 Tour and then helped Froome win the 2013 and 2015 Tours. Sky gave Porte the leadership role in 2014 when Froome abandoned the race, but he struggled to switch job roles so quickly and slipped out of contention on the Chamrousse mountain stage (stage 13).
Porte proved his leadership talents, however, with overall victories in Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya, and the Giro del Trentino last year. He led Sky’s Giro d’Italia team, but lost time to an illegal wheel change and a crash. BMC Racing kept the faith and offered him a contract to be its Tour leader alongside van Garderen, who has twice finished fifth overall.
“I’d rather that than a Froome-Wiggins tandem!” Porte joked when asked if he and van Garderen will ride the Tour like Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde did in 2015. Though they raced to first and second overall, Wiggins and Froome famously butted heads in the 2012 Tour. Quintana and Valverde placed second and third overall without such controversy.
But with the leadership comes responsibility. Porte trained at a lower level this winter as he prepares for a grand tour in July instead of one in May. He said his only big effort so far has been Willunga Hill in stage 5 of the Tour Down Under. He will be required to carry the weight of the team later in the year, starting with Paris-Nice next month.
“When you go to a team and you are co-leader, with Tejay, it’s not like being in team Sky when you are going in with Chris Froome who’s, rightly so, the outright leader,” Porte said.
BMC manager Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews that both Porte and van Garderen “understand the situation. In the end, it won’t be as big of a challenge as people might think.”
Said Porte, “There are no problems [with van Garderen], we are on the same page, he’s quite a good friend now as well. I’ll be doing quite a bit of training with him when we are back together in Nice. We are only going to get closer and learn how to ride together.”
The two will mostly ride the same program through the Tour de France. In March, Porte will lead the Paris-Nice team and van Garderen will travel to Italy to race Tirreno-Adriatico. For now, Porte must think of Oman. The race starts Tuesday and features its longest climb yet on Friday — a 7.5-kilometer ascent of Green Mountain, the finish of stage 4.