BALLARAT, Australia (VN) — Exactly 102 kilometers into Wednesday’s opening stage of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Saxo Bank-SunGard’s Richie Porte climbed off his bike and called it a day.
Before the race began, Porte, one of the race’s main drawcards — and one of Alberto Contador’s right-hand men at this year’s Giro d’Italia and Tour de France — was tipped as a solid chance to win overall. But when VeloNews spoke to the plucky Tasmanian at the race’s official launch Tuesday in Melbourne, he revealed he’d just had surgery to clear his nasal passages; his breathing difficulties an impediment that has besieged and stayed with him the entire season.
“That’s why I’m like I am at the moment, I’ve had surgery,” said a sniffling Porte, not looking his usual jaunty self.
So why come to Victoria, then?
“I mean… I can’t say too much…” was all Porte would utter Wednesday, on a day that turned the race on its head and left just six riders in contention to win overall, alluding perhaps to the possibility that the decision to race wasn’t entirely his own of his own accord.
VeloNews then asked Bradley McGee, his sport director at the race, if he had a feeling the newly recruited Team Sky rider would struggle in a race that, due its length, gives little to no chance for riders to ease back into the heady swing of racing.
“I didn’t think he’d do it easy… but I didn’t expect it to be that bad,” he said, sounding a smidgen unimpressed. “Whether it was (the operation) or something else, I don’t know. (The season) is over [for him].”
With the race allowing just six riders per team, Saxo Bank-SunGard is already a man down; McGee accepts that his initial idea — “we came here to win (overall)” – has now been made that much more challenging.
“We knew it was going to be tough with the parcours and Arthurs Seat (on stage 4) obviously being the deciding stage. But I think we’re quietly content with where we are now. It’s going to be very difficult (to win).
“It is what it is. I’m just looking forward now — I can’t look back,” said McGee.
For his team, the onus to prevail in the Sun Tour has now, by virtue of having only one man in the early move of 15 riders, fallen on the shoulders of Denmark’s Jonas Aaen Jørgensen, who won the bunch sprint for second Wednesday, 13 seconds behind stage winner, Rhys Pollock of Australian Continental team, Drapac Professional Cycling.
The peloton finished almost 10.5 minutes behind, almost certainly out of contention to win overall.
The 25-year-old Dane’s past two seasons have been light on results. However a week before the road world championships in Copenhagen, at Grand Prix d’Isbergues, Jørgensen was in a late move with Stuart O’Grady and managed to beat the Australian to score the biggest win of his career.
“I was happy to see any of my guys in the break,” said McGee. “They’re all not equal caliber but they’re all in good form — apart from Richie.
“The racing’s tough so we needed to be present (in the moves). In fact, I think it was Jonas who lit up the first attack, so he’s obviously feeling pretty good. He had a great day out there. He’s really come of age, Jonas … today was just another confirmation of his talent and his spirit. It’s really nice to see.
“(The race) is far from over, so that’s (still) a concern. Obviously, GC is going to come from that front group, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Oh, to be a fly on the wall at the SaxoBank-SunGard dinner table this evening …
Editor’s Note: Realizing life in advertising was nothing like Mad Men and buoyed by the Olympic Games in his Australian hometown of Sydney, Anthony Tan turned his back on a lucrative copywriting career in 2000 in pursuit of something more cerebral. Combining wordsmithing with his experiences as an A-Grade club racer and an underwhelming season competing in Europe, a career as a cycling scribe beckoned… More than 10 Grand Tours and countless Classics later, it’s where he still is today. He has been a contributor to VeloNews since 2006. In 2010, he won Cycling Australia’s media award for best story.