Porte ready to test himself against former teammate Contador

Sky captain said he feels no pressure at this week's Tour of the Basque Country as he keeps the podium in his sights

VITORIA, Spain (VN) — Richie Porte (Sky) is looking forward to the coming days of the demands of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) to see just how far he can go.

The 28-year-old Tasmanian has already posted a phenomenal spring, winning two stages and the overall at Paris-Nice, followed by winning a stage and riding to second behind teammate Chris Froome at Critérium International.

Porte enters this week’s Basque Country tour with nothing to lose, but that doesn’t mean he’s stepping off the gas. Instead, he’s going to throw the dice and see what happens.

“There’s no pressure. I’ve had a good season so far. Even if it’s tomorrow, I’ve won Paris-Nice,” Porte told VeloNews. “I am in good form and I am going to try to keep the ball rolling.”

Porte admits he has no pressure this week, but he wants to test his mettle against Spanish superstar Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Contador is a two-time winner here and has all the pressure to control the race as he looks for his first overall victory of the 2013 season.

Porte hopes to stay close to Contador in Wednesday’s and Thursday’s mountaintop finales and survive Friday’s 10-climb stage to enter Saturday’s 24-kilometer time trial stage within arm’s length of the podium.

“Alberto is looking good, as usual, he’s the man to beat. I will try to stay on his wheel, but it’s no easy feat. I will try,” Porte said. “This is one of the hardest races of the year. I’ve only done it once before. It’s a big race for the Spanish guys, so they’re all looking to be on top of their game.”

It’s been Porte who’s been at the top of his game in what’s been a breakout season for the fourth-year pro.

After riding in a support role for Contador at Saxo-Tinkoff, Porte switched to Sky last year, where he slipped into a helper’s role alongside Bradley Wiggins.

Porte rode every race Wiggins won last year and rode consistently across the season, but always staying in the shadows of Wiggins’ history-making season.

This year, Sky has given Porte the chance to take a leadership role in the early part of the season.

So far, he’s grabbed the opportunity by the horns with huge success.

“I am really enjoying it this year. I’ve had a few more opportunities to ride for myself. I need to take this opportunity to show what I can do,” he said. “It is a natural step up. Last year, I rode with Bradley in every race. I was up there at every crucial moment where I had to be.”

Porte said he’s worked to improve both his time trialing and climbing skills. The payoff has been impressive, with victories in the Critérium prologue and Paris-Nice time trial stages as well as a climbing stage victory that gave him the leader’s jersey at Paris-Nice.

“We did a lot of work on my time trial position. I used to time trial well, but now we’ve done a lot of work on my bike. I’ve worked on my climbing,” he said. “It’s been a natural progression.”

After Basque Country, he’ll race the Ardennes classics for the first time, with planned starts at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège followed up by a return to the Tour de Romandie.

After that, he’ll return to Tenerife to train at altitude with his Sky teammates before racing the Critérium du Dauphine and a likely return to the Tour de France.

There’s been speculation that Porte might be heading to a new team when his contract ends at the end of this season, but for now he’s focusing on racing and posting good results with Sky.

“I’m in a good place, I’m happy,” he said. That’s the key to it, I suppose.”