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Porte relishing chance to lead BMC in Tour

Richie Porte received the green light from BMC racing to lead the squad at next summer's Tour de France.

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DENIA, Spain (VN) — Richie Porte is relishing his chance to finally take the reins as the sole GC leader at the Tour de France. With BMC Racing giving him the green light to carry team colors in 2017, the Tasmanian all-rounder is bullish on his prospects.

“This is probably the most important year of my career,” Porte said during a media day this week. “It’s hard not to be motivated in 2017.”

The most significant change for Porte going into this season is that he will not be sharing leadership duties with Tejay van Garderen, who will race the Giro d’Italia instead. That opens the road for Porte, who turns 32 next month, in his best shot at the yellow jersey.

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“I’ve done many Tours in the service of other guys. The Tour is the ultimate race, so to be here and have an opportunity is a massive occasion for me,” Porte said. “People queried my ability to ride for three weeks, but you know, it’s a bit different when you are not the leader of the team.”

Porte, a former triathlete, turned professional quite late by traditional standards, joining the WorldTour in 2010. He rode for two years as a teammate of Alberto Contador and four years alongside Chris Froome at Team Sky. Following his breakout Giro d’Italia performance in 2010 (seventh), other efforts to lead during three weeks seemed to fizzle for one reason or another. As Porte pointed out, he was often riding in the service of others, but his big shot at the 2015 Giro ran out of gas before reaching Milan.

His move to BMC Racing in 2016 was pivotal, finally giving him the chance to prepare exclusively for the Tour de France. He delivered with a career-best fifth place, and if it were not for a puncture late in stage 2, he looked to have the legs to reach the final podium. That performance convinced BMC management to put their weight behind Porte for 2017.

“I’m ready to lead the team,” Porte said. “It’s a huge opportunity, but I’ve sacrificed enough. I know it’s a massive opportunity, but physically or mentally, I’m ready.”

Evans factor: ‘He’s a hard cookie’

BMC Racing is one of the few active teams in the peloton that has won the Tour de France, with Cadel Evans taking yellow in 2011. For Porte, that experience and acumen counts for a lot.

“It’s the same structure that won the Tour, but on paper, I think we’re going to have stronger support than when they did before,” Porte said. “As an Australian, it’s a bonus to have Cadel.

“He’s a big inspiration for me. One of the reasons I’m riding a bike is the Cadel Evans factor. I watched him as a kid, so to have Cadel following me on Whatsapp, or to be in the same room before the race started, that’s a huge mental tower to lean on.

“Cadel is a hard cookie,” Porte added. “He was always one of the hardest riders out there. It’s that whole Aussie battler thing. I remember riding that Tour [2011], seeing him stop on the side of the road, cool as a cucumber, having a bike change. I don’t think anyone has ever won the Tour with a straightforward race.”

Those were lessons that Porte took to heart in 2016, and now he will have the chance he’s been working for his entire career to lead at the Tour.