Health problems take their toll on the Sky rider, who started the season with grand tour podium aspirations

MILAN (VN) — Australian Richie Porte (Sky), who has not raced since the Tour de France, has ended his season early, saying that health problems took their toll in 2014.

“I haven’t had the best of health this year,” Porte told SBS Cycling Central. “I spent the last week in Manchester speaking with the doctors and we’ve found that during the Tour, I had a mild case of pneumonia.”

Porte helped Chris Froome win the Tour de France in 2013 and scored several big results for himself that year, including the Paris-Nice overall victory and second in both the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) and the Critérium du Dauphiné.

The 2014 season, however, was not as kind to the 29-year-old Tasmanian. He won a stage at the Tour Down Under — his only win this year — and placed second overall in the Vuelta a Andalucía.

At Tirreno-Adriatico, he showed he was ready to challenge eventual winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) but fell sick, abandoned the race, and had to renounce his plans to compete for the Giro d’Italia’s pink jersey. He returned stronger for the Tour de France, worked for Chris Froome and took over Sky’s leadership when Froome abandoned, but again suffered from a chest infection and fell out of contention.

“For me it’s the end of the year now, and hopefully I can have a better season in 2015,” Porte said.

“I’m not going to beat myself up too much, I had a year like this three seasons ago, and I’ve had some good ones since. I’m pretty happy to draw a line through the year and move on.”

Sky races in black kits, but its top brass said they see a bright future for Porte and another shot at leading a grand tour team. Sky principal Dave Brailsford explained that Porte does not risk being just a super-domestique to Froome and Sky’s other stars.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Brailsford explained in July. “I think in the right race, in the right conditions, the right form … yes, [Porte can lead a grand tour team]. He just needs to get into a scenario where he’s on top and he’s fighting from the front.”

Brailsford added that “absolutely” Porte would have his chance to lead a grand tour again. “Why not?”

Porte rocketed to cycling’s forefront in 2010, when he formed part of a large breakaway group in the Giro d’Italia and wore the pink jersey for three days. He went on to finish seventh overall and earned the white jersey as the best young rider.

Sky signed him from Saxo Bank for 2012 and put him to work for its leaders. He helped Bradley Wiggins win the 2012 Tour de France and finished 89th. A year later while working for Froome, Porte rode to 19th. He was 23rd this year.

Despite lacking another top-10 finish in a grand tour, however, Sky remains convinced of Porte’s abilities.

“Has he got the physical ability to be up there in GC in a grand tour? The answer is yes. That’s a fact,” Brailsford explained. “Can he do it, mentally and physically? I think he can, but he hasn’t so far. That’s a fact.”