Richie Porte (Sky) continues to barnstorm through the spring calendar, notching his seventh win of 2015 Wednesday, with an emphatic stage victory at the second stage of the Giro del Trentino high in the Italian Alps.
The 30-year-old Tasmanian has clearly stepped up big-time in 2015, and with his climbing-stage victory Wednesday, he takes control of the overall leader’s jersey in the key warm-up race ahead of his season’s major goal at the Giro d’Italia, less than three weeks away.
Porte attacked with 2km to go to open up a sizable gap over his rivals, and maintained the advantage to take a convincing stage victory and grab the overall leader’s jersey by 24 seconds.
“It’s nice to come here and win a stage like today,” said Porte after the race. “It was such a hard stage. It was great to see Bora honor the jersey and do the work they did. But credit to my team and especially Kosta Siutsou, he was incredible today. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I’m here to win this race.”
Last season was a bit of a bust for Porte, who saw his chances of shining at the Giro d’Italia and later at the Tour de France undermined by illness. Following recovery, Porte admitted he went back to the drawing board, and realized he had to dedicate himself fully to being a professional cyclist if he wanted to fulfill his highly touted potential.
So far, things could not have gone better for Porte this year. He won the overall at both Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya, two highly contested back-to-back World Tour-caliber races in March. In his first European stage race in February, he won a stage and was fourth overall at the Volta a Algarve.
After training at altitude on Tenerife, Porte and has come roaring into the four-day Trentino race clearly firing at all cylinders, with his team working like a well-oiled machine in support of his bid for victory.
In Tuesday’s 13.3km team time trial opener, Team Sky tied on time with Bora-Argon 18, but the German squad took the win and jersey on a tiebreaker.
On Wednesday, Sky rode the 168.2km stage from Arco to Brentonico as if they were in the leader’s jersey. Sky set a brutal pace to thin the peloton, with Porte safely protected by riders he’ll be bringing to the Giro with him next month. No one could match Porte’s firepower up the final summit finale, with Mikel Landa (Astana), a winner of a stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) earlier this month, taking second 16 seconds back and Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), a former three-time winner at Trentino, leading a group of four across the line at 32 seconds adrift.
“I didn’t feel at my best today. I came down from altitude on Friday, but to win with legs like I had today is a massive confidence booster,” Porte said. “But it’s a team sport and the work the guys put in today for me was the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. … Ian Boswell has really stepped up this year, and he attacked at the beginning of the penultimate climb, which helped force the selection. Then it came back and it was the Kosta show. He paced the whole climb. We talked on the bus this morning that we wanted to have four guys at the bottom of the last climb, and we had that. That’s what set me up for the win. There was no other team with as many numbers there as we had.”
The victory puts Porte in the driver’s seat going into Thursday’s three-climb, uphill finale in stage 3. If he can hold onto the lead, Friday’s rolling stage shouldn’t present major problems for what would be his third stage race victory of the season.
Another GC victory would provide Porte with another huge boost going into the Giro. The Trentino field is hardly world-class, even less so after Fabio Aru (Astana) was a late-hour scratch due to stomach problems, but the overall would reconfirm Porte’s Giro credentials in dramatic fashion.
Of the pre-Giro favorites, Porte has been the most prolific so far in 2015. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has only one win all season, with a stage victory at the Ruta del Sol in February, followed by less-than-spectacular rides at Tirreno-Adriatico (fifth overall) and the Tour of the Basque Country (fourth). Contador is taking aim at the Giro-Tour double this year, and has continually said he does not want to peak too early, so he’s been holding back with an eye on riding into winning form at the Giro, and then keeping enough in the tank for an assault at the Tour.
Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick Step), two years running as the Giro runner-up, won the Colombian time trial title in January, then finished a solid third at Tirreno behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and fifth at Basque Country. He’s traveled home to Colombia to train at altitude before a return to Europe next month ahead of the Giro.
Aru, who was out-gunned by Porte at both Paris-Nice (39th) and Catalunya (sixth), will be hoping that his stomach bug isn’t more than a temporary setback before the Giro. He’s penciled in to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, but will miss the four days of hard racing in his legs as he approaches the Giro as the top Italian favorite for the pink jersey.
Porte’s stock is clearly on the rise ahead of the corsa rosa, and he’s been by far the best performer of the pre-Giro favorites. The only question is whether will he have the legs to hold out the inevitable assaults from Aru and Contador in the Giro’s high climbs. Those two know they will need to take important gains out of Porte before the 59.2km individual time trial in stage 14.
“It’s the last big hit out for me before the Giro,” Porte said Wednesday. “I’m happy with where my form is going into the Giro d’Italia.”
The Trentino tour has long been a springboard to Giro success for such riders as Ivan Basso, Cunego, and Vincenzo Nibali. Will history repeat itself in 2015? Porte will certainly be hoping so.