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Ochowicz tamps down talk that Porte is Tour favorite

Just moments after Sunday’s thrilling finale at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Sky’s Chris Froome turned to a pack of journalists and singled out Richie Porte as the favorite to win the 2017 Tour de France.

Perhaps the three-time Tour winner was trying to put additional pressure on his former teammate. The BMC Racing captain has emerged as one of Sky’s most dangerous rivals heading into next month’s Tour.

BMC Racing officials, however, don’t want to carry that burden or additional stress heading into the season’s top grand tour battle.

“I would not say we are the favorites,” said BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz. When asked if Porte is ready to win the Tour, he said, “That’s a big mouthful. I would never guarantee anything like that.”

That was Ochowicz being diplomatic. Of course, BMC believes Porte is ready and able to challenge Froome, aiming for the top step of the podium at the Tour next month.

Porte, 32, has yet to reach a Tour podium. His fifth-place finish last year and a successful, consistent spring campaign put the Tasmanian first in line when it comes to taking on Froome. This is all despite hiccups in the Dauphiné’s final stage Sunday.

Ochowicz said BMC Racing’s experience and depth should give Porte an extra edge to go the distance at the Tour.

“Richie is ready to race the Tour start to finish,” Ochowicz continued. “He’ll have a good team behind him, he’ll have all the tools necessary to do the race 100 percent. Is he ready to potentially win the Tour? Yes. In the end, it’s up to the athlete. Everything’s been done right to get to this point up to now, and he’s in great condition.”

Of the teams lining up in Düsseldorf, BMC Racing is one of the few with recent experience winning the Tour de France. Before Team Sky emerged as the top Tour team in 2012 with Bradley Wiggins and later Froome, BMC Racing won the Tour with Cadel Evans in 2011. Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali won yellow in 2014, but Nibali — now at Bahrain-Merida — isn’t expected to race the Tour. Astana will bring improving prospects Fabio Aru and Critérium du Dauphiné winner Jakob Fuglsang.

Alberto Contador, the only other former Tour winner besides Froome likely to start, last officially won in 2009. He joined Trek-Segafredo at the start of 2017.

“We know what it takes to win the Tour. We’ve done it before with Cadel,” Ochowicz said. “There are not a lot of teams that have even won a grand tour before.”

Ochowicz said BMC Racing’s Tour de France nine-rider selection will be made following the Tour de Suisse, which concludes Sunday.

Another key to Porte’s chances will be how he and the team manage the inevitable setbacks that come in any Tour.

Last year, Porte battled back from an ill-timed puncture with about 5km to go in stage 2, losing him valuable time against his GC rivals that might have cost him a podium spot in Paris. And then he tangled up in the infamous “Froome Run” episode on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

Each time, Porte kept pushing forward, something Ochowicz says was an important lesson for any grand tour.

“It never goes as smooth as it should all the time,” he said. “No one is not going to have a bad day. Just like [Sunweb’s Tom] Dumoulin at the Giro. He had to stop and lost two minutes. That certainly wasn’t scripted. You have to get past those points if you want to do what he just did at the Giro. Things happen, and you just gotta move on, make adjustments, and refocus on every single day.”

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