THE absence of reigning champion Bradley Wiggins from next week's Paris-Nice has opened the door for his Tasmanian teammate Richie Porte to play a bigger role in the prestigious week-long tour.
Paris-Nice was one of three major races that Porte and the rest of Team Sky's star-studded line-up helped Wiggins win en route to also claiming his maiden Tour de France and Olympic time trial crowns last year, but bosses at the British outfit have unveiled a new-look approach to this season.
A program which will see riders in action across four Western European countries during March has Porte among those targeting success in France.
The Hadspen 28-year-old will join teammates Vasil Kiryienka and Kanstantsin Siutsou on the eight-day tour beginning on Sunday with a 2.9-kilometre prologue time trial in the Parisian suburb of Houilles.
Porte confirmed the selection to The Examiner but said it will be a tough proposition.
``It's my least favourite race of the year and maybe the hardest of the week-long stage races,'' he said from his European base in Monaco.
Specifically targeting this year's Giro d'Italia, Wiggins will contest the Volta a Catalunya (March 18-24) along with seven teammates while the team's Tour de France make-up remains unclear as last year's runner-up, Chris Froome, follows up his Tour of Oman triumph by taking on another stage race at Tirreno-Adriatico (March 6-12).
Having helped his close mate to victory in the Middle East, Porte said it will be interesting to see what develops when the cycling focus returns to France in four months' time.
``It was nice for Froome to actually realise that he can win the Tour de France - it will be a good battle come July!''
After some altitude training in Tenerife, Sky's classics specialists Edvald Boasson Hagen and Geraint Thomas are expected to lead the squad for the first major one-day race of the season Milan-San Remo on March 17.
The 71st edition of Paris-Nice features its highest ever mountain stage finish and concludes with a 9.6km final time trial to the summit of Col d'agrÈze.