No lead role for Porte

IT DEMONSTRATES how far Richie Porte's cycling career has come that the No. 2 ticket to the Tour de France is seen as mere compensation following yesterday's announcement that he would not be able to lead a Grand Tour assault next month.

After an illness-plagued few weeks, the 29-year-old Launceston rider's star-studded Sky team decided to pull him out of the Giro d'Italia to focus on Chris Froome's Tour de France title defence a couple of months later.

The news would be as disappointing for Porte as for Australian cycling fans who had been eagerly anticipating a showdown between the country's first Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans, and his heir apparent as the nation's leading grand tour contender.

Speaking to  The Examiner  in Launceston before Christmas, Porte admitted that the prospect of taking on the three-week tour that   he led for three days in 2010, and in which he won the young riders' classification,  was dominating his thoughts.

Having turned down more lucrative rival offers to stick with the team he helped win the last two editions of the Tour de France, he believed he had earned the right to chase the Giro win.

``That was one of the reasons why I stayed there, and while it's nice to be sitting here in nice weather in Australia, I'd be lying if I said I'm not constantly thinking about being in the cold in Italy in May,'' he said.

After starting 2014 in sparkling form, claiming a bronze medal in the Australian road title at Buninyong, winning a stage of the Tour Down Under and coming second in Spain's Ruta del Sol, a bout of gastroenteritis forced Porte to quit March's Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Catalonia, and he admitted that his Giro campaign had been compromised by the lack of racing. 

Sky's head of performance support, Tim Kerrison, said Porte was critical to the team's hopes at the Tour de France, which starts in Leeds on July 5. 

``Richie was always going to ride the Tour de France this year, but this now means that he can fully focus on being in the best possible shape without the added challenge of having to ride the Giro as well,'' Kerrison said.

``He played an invaluable role in our Tour wins in 2012 and 2013 and we want  him to do the same again this year. 

``We're always reviewing our line-ups and looking how we can best support our riders and give ourselves the best possible chance for success.'' 

Porte, who was denied the chance to defend his Paris-Nice crown when Sky switched his program last month, faces a heavily revised program.

His next race will be the Liege-Bastogne-Liege one-day classic in Belgium on April 27, followed by the Tour de Romandie in Switzerland (April 29-May 5) and then the Criterium du Dauphine in France (June 8-15) before the Tour.

Froome will be Sky's leader in all four races, but opportunities may well unfold for his chief lieutenant, who enjoyed a brief stint in second place while helping the Brit to victory in Paris last year.

Fairfax cycling writer Rupert Guinness said Porte's Giro withdrawal made sense given his illness issues.

``For a team leader such as Porte to start a three-week tour as hard as the Giro short of top form, and full fitness, is foolhardy, especially as the cold conditions alone can bring on illness,'' he said.

Joining Porte in Liege will be teammate and fellow Tasmanian Nathan Earle, who will also tackle the Amstel Gold and La Fleche Wallonne this month.

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