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With Porte, Trek-Segafredo takes low-pressure approach

The Tasmanian's main target race is the Tour de France this year, his first with the U.S.-registered team.

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Everyone knows what Richie Porte is capable of, from his new bosses at Trek-Segafredo to his teammates and Porte himself. So there’s no reason to pile too much pressure on the veteran Tasmanian as he takes over leadership of the U.S.-registered team.

“When we hired Richie, we know he will be good as usual in the one-week races. In the Tour, the idea is to be good in the GC, but not to have too much stress to be up there,” said Trek-Segafredo general manager Luca Guercilena. “We won’t want too much pressure and we’ll see what happens on the road.”

Porte, 34, is already off to a winning start in the first weeks of his two-year deal at Trek-Segafredo. He won at Old Willunga Hill at the Santos Tour Down Under for the record sixth time and then was second in a key stage at the Herald Sun Tour before finishing fifth overall.

Porte lines up later this month at the UAE Tour before heading back to Europe in March.

“It’s a great way to start the season and I’m really happy with the setup with the team,” Porte said in Australia. “I hope to keep winning races.”

Those early season results bode well for Porte to take on the 2019 European season in which some are calling a “now or never” year for him to make a run at the yellow jersey.

With the rise of younger GC talents like Egan Bernal (Sky) and Enric Mas (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and the continued dominance of Sky with Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, time could be working against Porte. And with Sky facing possible closure at the end of 2019, it won’t be easy for anyone to try to snatch away the yellow jersey from Sky, at least this year.

Porte is taking a philosophical view of his racing season. With his palmares over the past half decade, including victories at such races as Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie, Volta a Catalunya, and the Tour de Suisse, he knows he has nothing to prove when it comes to one-week stage racing.

Right or wrong, it’s the Tour de France that everyone in the sport looks to when measuring a stage racer. And Porte admits he has some unfinished business in the month of July.

“I just need to get through it,” Porte said in Australia. “For sure, the Tour is the target. I think we have a good plan.”

By any measure, Porte has had a bumpy ride in the past few years at the Tour following a promising fifth in 2016 while leading the now-shuttered BMC Racing. He suffered a horrific crash in the Alps in 2017, only to have very bad luck to crash out last year in an early pileup on the cobblestone stage. He finished the season by completing the Vuelta a España, his first complete grand tour since 2016.

Much of the 2019 plan hatched by Trek-Segafredo is allowing Porte the freedom to train and approach his season in a way that fits him best. An experienced pro like Porte, who has worked with such trainers as Tim Kerrison and David Bailey, knows what he needs to do to prepare for the season’s highlights.

“Richie is very professional and he already puts pressure on himself,” Guercilena said. “We will get to know each other as the season unfolds, and of course we have big ambitions.”

Part of that low-key approach is to allow Porte to train more at his home in Tasmania and race in a few select events. Paris-Nice, which he’s won twice (2013 and 2015), and the Dauphiné, where he twice finished second (2013 and 2017), are the top pre-Tour targets.

“It’s going to be a little more time at home to train, and then hit the Dauphiné and the Tour in good form,” Porte said. “The team is letting me do. It’s nice to wind down a little bit and not have the pressure of racing. It’s proven that it works for others.”

Porte is betting less is more in 2019.