Richie Porte was in a relaxed mood on the Tour de France’s first rest day, but also fully committed to trying to win the race. The Australian took over as Team Sky’s leader after defending champion Chris Froome was forced to withdraw, and has quickly settled into the role.
He is sitting second overall in the general classification heading into the second part of the Tour. Despite a two minute 23 second deficit to Vincenzo Nibali plus powerful performances from the Italian, he’s nowhere near limiting his ambitions to the runner-up slot.
“If you look at Alberto [Contador] crashing and things like this, I think the goal is to stay on your bike. With that comes hopefully a fight not just for the podium but for the jersey” he said in in the video interview below.
“At this point in time, second on GC – it’s really nice position to be in. Nibali is showing that he is the strongest rider here, but he has had the jersey for a long time now and his team are obviously going to be tired.
“We will just take it day by day and see. The last week in the Pyrenees, I still think that is where this race will still be decided.”
Porte’s optimism is based on two things; his own sensations and also the acknowledgement that Nibali’s team has already done a whole lot of work. Sky is down to six riders after the withdrawals of Froome and Xabier Zandio but, weighing up what Astana has already had to do, Porte believes Sky has what it takes to defend if he can grab yellow later in the race.
“If you look at Astana, they have been riding on the front since stage three. That is not ideal,” he said. “I think when it comes down to it…okay, it would be nice to have more team-mates, but second place on GC…it is more up to Nibali to defend right now.
“I can also feed off other teams, there are some strong teams in the mountains. All is not lost.”
Nibali won stage two and has been in yellow for all bar one of the stages since. While he is clearly the strongest rider in the race right now, the big unknown is whether or not he can hold on to his condition for the remainder of the three week event.
Porte doesn’t know if that will be the case, but as regards himself he believes that his form is gradually increasing.
“Certainly yesterday when Nibali attacked, everyone sort of looked towards me. I pulled there for a little while longer than what I wanted to and I didn’t lose that much time. Coming into the Alps and the Pyrenees, I think they are climbs that suit me better. I am certainly looking forward to that final time trial as well.
“My form is good. I am right where I need to be and I think the biggest key to this race is staying on your bike.”
The 2013 Paris-Nice winner is a strong time trialist and also knows that the race against the clock on the penultimate day should be a strength for him. He might well have a chance to take some time back on Nibali there, but he knows that he can’t sit back and wait for that.
“He has already got quite a good advantage on us all” he recognises. “It would be nice to not lose any more time to him. But I also have to be cautious about guys like Valverde behind and Thibaut Pinot, guys like this. As we say, take it day by day. I am certainly looking forward to these longer climbs.”
He’s also looking forward to warmer conditions. Porte is used to riding in the Australian heat and believes that more sun will suit him better than the wet, cold stages which – hopefully – are now in the rear view mirror.
“I am healthy. I am in one piece. Hopefully in the next ten days the weather will get a little bit better than it has been. I think that one of the biggest factors is the weather. This race has been…well, it was not really summer.”
Asked flat out if he believes he can win the Tour, he refrains from bold predictions. He’s yet to take any time out of Nibali in the mountains, and needs to do that before he can be more assertive about what he can do.
However he’s not ruling final yellow jersey out either.
“Anything is possible, isn’t it? I know it is going to be hard, and already I am happy with how the race has been. If you had said to me two weeks ago that I would be sitting second on GC in the first rest day, I would have been thrilled to bits.
“I am a little guy but I think I am a bit of a fighter. And there’s plenty of fight left in me.”