Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, Bradley Wiggins and now Richie Porte. One race, one winner, many implications.
Richie Porte has well and truly announced his arrival in the top echelon of world cycling with his overall victory in the Paris-Nice stage race.
His breakout performance in the Giro d’Italia in 2010 was outstanding. His domestique work for Wiggins and Chris Froome in the Grand Tours has been exemplary. But nothing underpins his talent and his ability like his Paris-Nice victory.
Porte now enjoys a certain air of authority born out of his dual stage win and yellow jersey claiming performance.
He showed the right mix of patience and poise on his victorious ascent of La Montagne de Lure, he attacked at the right time and made it count.
Similarly, his time trial efforts up the Col’Èze simply confirmed that the best rider was going to win the race.
Now that Porte has confirmed the ability he has always shown, it is to be expected that the pundits are already asking questions about the Sky leadership ‘tri’lemma.
Surely Porte has ambitions of his own? Surely he will want to ride Grand Tours as a leader now? Can Sky hold onto and keep a lid on its melting pot of race winning talent?
The answers to these questions we can only speculate upon. It could be Porte’s intention to change teams and take leadership opportunities of his own when his contract is up for negotiation.
Or perhaps Porte is playing the long game, knowing that at the end of the Wiggins and Froome rainbow is a pot of gold, yellow and pink jerseys that could be his for the taking.
The biggest implication from Porte’s win is that he is now a proven winner.
Last year in the Volta ao Algarve, Porte was handed the opportunity to take a win for himself. With Wiggins playing the sacrificial lamb for a change, Porte was quick to take the helm at yet another Sky slaughter and took a hill top victory and the overall classification.
This week at Paris-Nice we saw the same decisiveness, the same ability to just get the job done. Of the inputs that create a successful cyclist the mental side is often overlooked.
As Porte cited in various interviews in the lead up to Paris Nice, he was feeling nervous going into the race as the designated leader.
These nerves were certainly justified. Any rider can enter a race as a domestique. You have an unambiguous role to perform within the team, to fetch drinks, to chase on the front or to be a part of the lead out.
The mental anguish involved is lower because you know that even if the team sprinter or climber does not get the result you can still have performed your job adequately.
It’s a low risk low reward situation. One in which many domestique are happy to exist. As the leader, however, the situation is reversed.
You have a team with a multi-million dollar budget. You have a team of riders all sacrificing themselves for you. You have a team of staff busy cleaning your bikes, cooking your food, even massage your buttocks!
Every drop of energy is squeezed from every member of the team with the sole purpose of you crossing the line first.
During the race you have to do your best to conserve energy and also stay out of trouble in the early stages. It’s always a fine line between fighting to stay at the front to avoid the inevitable splits and crashes and simply burning too many matches.
It is often said the rider who wins the race is the one who pedals the least. Thus if you spend all of your cookies covering moves and making sure you miss nothing then you also run the risk of wasting precious fuel.
It’s clear now that as a team leader one’s situation is very much one of high risk, high reward. Only one rider can win the race, so failure is a distinct possibility.
So when given the chance to lead, you must prepared to fail. Mentally, this is the hardest part. You know what your job is. You know the expected result.
But after four or five hours in the saddle it is this simmering pressure that makes it easy to talk yourself out of it:
“Oh my legs feel pretty sluggish.”
“Geez I’m feeling hungry, have I eaten enough?”
“Geez I feel full, have I eaten too much?”
“I haven’t taken a leak all stage, I wonder if I am a bit dehydrated?”
“Man Andrew Talanksy looks good today, shit, can I really beat him?”
It’s the mark of a true champion to be able to banish these thoughts and to remain confident, positive and focused in the days and hours leading up to that crucial moment where the race is won or lost.
Porte has now proven he has the ability to win and he knows how to win.
So whether he remains bound to Sky in the future, or we see him riding elsewhere, we now know what he is capable off.
And most importantly, so does Richie Porte.