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Tour de France

Is Richie Porte the Tour de France ‘wildcard’ for Ineos Grenadiers?

Richie Porte continues to downplay his chances at the Tour de France, but the route and team dynamics favor him even more than in 2020.

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Richie Porte delivered a sublime overall victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné that will see his Tour de France stock rise accordingly.

Third overall in last year’s Tour, the veteran Tasmanian was planning — and still is — on riding the 2021 Tour to support the likes of Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Richard Carapaz.

But could Porte ride himself into contention next month at the Tour? Maybe so.

If last year’s course suited Porte, who rode under the radar to hit the podium for the first time of his career, this year’s route, with two individual time trials and more traditional mountain stages,  is even better.

Porte said don’t bank on it.

Porte was quick to downplay any conjecture that his Dauphiné victory will mean that he’s going to the Tour with any bigger plans other than to help the team win the yellow jersey.

“I’m under no illusions, I’m here to help out,” Porte said of the upcoming Tour. “I think that the way Tao [Geoghegan Hart] and Geraint [Thomas] and those guys helped me, I’d love to repay them.”

The plucky 36-year-old, who became the oldest Dauphiné winner, rode a near-perfect race last week in France, staying out of trouble early, then riding into GC-range in the individual time trial, and then helped apply pressure once the race hit the mountains.

Also read: Richie Porte wins Critérium du Dauphiné

Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech) looked to be in control when he snatched the leader’s jersey in stage 6.  In what was another preview of the depth and power of Ineos Grenadiers, the team played the numbers, and came up big Saturday, with Porte finishing second on La Plagne. Porte took back enough on Lutsenko to snatch yellow, and then finished it off Sunday behind back-to-back stage victories for Mark Padun (Bahrain-Victorious).

After twice finishing second — in 2013 and again in 2017 — the victory Sunday was sweet revenge for Porte and marked his 10th career GC stage-race win.

“Having been second here twice and one year losing second in the last kilometer, to finally win it I’m just over the moon,” Porte said. “All the sacrifices [and the] time away from my wife and two kids, [this makes it] worth it.”

Porte seemed to relish the victory, and he will take a short break before returning to the Tour, which begins in Brest on June 26.

The 2021 season is a coming home of sorts for Porte, who raced for Team Sky from 2012 to 2015, where he emerged as a consistent performer in weeklong stage races and grand tours. A three-year stint at BMC Racing produced a career-best of fifth in 2016, before topping it last summer with third at Trek-Segafredo.

Porte’s return to Ineos Grenadiers sees him gladly slotting into the system a rung or two below the team’s top GC stars.

Porte quickly confirmed he was primed for his new role, helping Adam Yates and Thomas win at the Volta a Catalunya and the Tour de Romandie, respectively.

“It’s great to have numbers, great to be back in this team and I’m enjoying riding my bike,” Porte said.

Ineos Grenadiers will try to keep Porte in the GC picture

Ineos Grenadiers has yet to confirm its “Tour Eight,” but the team is shaping up to be likely the strongest in the race.

The team will have some tough choices to make. With Porte, Thomas, Geoghegan Hart, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Andrey Amador all looking in top form during the Dauphiné, and Carapaz, Luke Rowe, and Rohan Dennis racing at the Tour de Suisse this week, someone is going to come up with the short straw if Jonathan Castroviejo, Laurens De Plus, and Dylan Van Baarle are also on a long list.

Thomas and Carapaz will be Ineos Grenadiers’ outright leaders, with insiders hinting that Thomas is back in the same shape he was when he barnstormed to the yellow jersey in 2018.

Ineos Grenadiers already has proven with its more wide-open GC approach — with the “train” now consisting of riders capable of working and winning — Porte will very much be pressing to stay in the hunt for the GC even if he’s not the team’s front line captain.

Having multiple cards to play in the GC will help the team keep rivals such as Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar off balance.

If he can avoid early race setbacks and time gaps, Porte will stay close on GC going into the Alps and Pyrénées. And if his consistency and depth play out like last year, Porte could very well be in the running going all the way into the final time trial in Saint-Emilion.

Playing a super-domestique role is fine for Porte, who seems happy to let the others carry the burdens that come with outright leadership.

“I don’t need the stress and pressure,” Porte said. “For me, this feels like a Tour de France victory.”

Five of the past 10 winners of the Dauphiné have gone on to the Tour, and all of them have been Sky/Ineos riders.

Could Porte be the Tour’s ultimate wildcard rider in 2021? Taking pressure off Porte seems to be helping quite a bit. If he’s not starting as No. 1, he still might end up being that.