RICHIE Porte will always be indebted to defending Tour de France champion Cadel Evans for the help and advice he gave him as a rookie professional when he emerged as a grand tour revelation in the Giro d’Italia two years ago, despite the two Australians being on rival teams.
But that will not stop Porte, 27, from racing so strongly that he could stop Evans from winning a consecutive Tour title over the next three weeks.
There is a tight bond between all the Australian cyclists who are on various teams on the world circuit – from whom a record 12 are in this year’s Tour that finishes on July 22.
But they all know that there is no room for national loyalty if it comes in the way of their own trade team winning.
In this case, the British Sky team for which Porte and Australian Michael Rogers ride is the major rival of the US BMC team led by Evans.
The reason for that is that Sky is led by Briton Bradley Wiggins. Evans is rightly one of the major favourites as the defending champion, but Wiggins is seen by many as the in-form favourite, having started the Tour with wins in the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine stage races.
Porte, an excellent time triallist and strong climber, is one of the principal teammates of Wiggins and his job will be to support him in the mountains.
But when Porte started this year’s 3469-kilometre Tour that began on Saturday with a 6.4-kilometre prologue in Liege, his gratitude for all the assistance that he got in that 2010 Giro from Evans was just as strong.
As they rode elbow to elbow during the stages, Evans advised Porte about the coming climbs, corners and various other obstacles that Evans had noted and learnt from pre-race route reconnaissance, or on how to position himself and remain calm in the pressure moments as they came.
”I’ll never forget the first Giro where Cadel looked after me and stuck up for me in a few things,” Porte said while recalling that 2010 Giro in which he impressed by wearing the race leader’s pink jersey for three days and finished seventh overall.
But Porte emphasised that that gratitude would not affect how he would race the Tour, an event in which he hopes to one day contend for the overall classification.
”It’s a team sport and you can’t think about your Aussie roots,” Porte said. ”But the Aussies have good healthy respect for each other and as long as that is adhered to, there will be no grudges off the bike. I don’t think the rivalry is going to transcend off the bike.”
Porte began this year’s Tour – his second – finishing 36th in the prologue at 22 seconds to Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, who won in seven minutes 13 seconds, beating Wiggins and Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, who were second and third at seven seconds.
The circumstances are totally different to a year ago. Then he rode in the Saxo Bank team and began the Tour on the back of a gruelling Giro in which he raced at the service of Spaniard Alberto Contador, who finished first but is sidelined by a retroactive two-year ban for doping.
Asked what he learned from his Tour debut, Porte said: ”It’s a circus, and to expect the unexpected. I am a lot more relaxed going into my second Tour with Team Sky. This is going to be hard, but it is a lot more straight-forward goal.”
Porte realises things could get more complicated once the Tour hits the mountains where BMC and other teams are expected to attack Wiggins in a bid to gain time on him – or at least tire him – before the 53-kilometre stage-19 time trial in which he is expected to shine.
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