Richie Porte’s victory at the 2013 Paris-Nice last weekend is deserved reward for a rider who has shaped his career in his own manner, succeeding despite his constant omission from world championship teams due to Australian selectors.
But that commentary is for another time.
Richie is now the consummate professional, riding support for both Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome when it is required of him and able to wear the mantel of leadership to further his own ambitions for the future.
The all-powerful Team Sky are targeting races to develop the potential leadership aspirations of a rider like Porte, while allowing the major aspirants the opportunity to select Grand Tour goals at their leisure with the full support of a team where each rider is allowed to develop their own roles.
The shape of the racing season has changed a great deal since my first Paris Nice back in 1980.
The Tour Down Under is now the official start of the World Tour season, and the races roll over back-to-back until the start of the Grand Tours in Europe.
Team Sky are dictating the terms in such an absurdly professional manner that the remainder of the teams appear to look amateurish in comparison.
Currently Team Sky is the essence of professional cycling, they represent the future and image of the sport.
The European teams remain stuck in the traditions that the sport was built on and, for better or worse, the UCI remains committed to their course of a World Tour with scant regard for the pace of change and the impact on the financial base that supports the team network.
The upheaval will continue as funds tighten with champion riders on substandard teams unable to compete against a Froome, Wiggins, or Porte.
Each are able to take up the reigns with equal veracity in any race that they select with an almighty force behind them in support.
Richie was given position as leader of the Sky Pro cycling team for this year’s Paris-Nice.
Wiggins won the event last year and when he decided he was not going to focus on this year’s Paris Nice, Richie put his hand up.
I suspect however that this was Richie’s designated reward, after last year’s hard yards for Sky and I believe this was pre-ordained a long time before the media caught hold of Wiggins abdication of Paris Nice.
Paris-Nice was always called ‘The Race to the Sun’ and in my time was considered the first serious race of the season.
Today the World Tour chases the sun and the riders don’t really face too many treacherous conditions until they hit the courses of the Spring Classics.
The Paris-Nice is an historic race and ever keen to notch up early wins, teams would hold training camps in the milder climes of Southern Italy, Spain or the South of France to prepare for the race.
For three weeks prior teams would train, thousands of kilometres in sunshine and non-frosty conditions. Every couple of days there were local races that we would enter, to sharpen our race form as the Paris-Nice drew closer.
I recall listening to legendary stories of old as told by my Peugeot team elders, of the days when riders would find their way to Paris and gather on the start line, some with only an expectation of gaining additional form as the race progressed.
Organisers turned a blind eye if you happened not to finish a stage the day before and you rolled up to the start line to ride again the next day.
Riders would start the race in full winter kit, their bikes sported mud-guards. The old timers would grumble about how serious the race was becoming and the rest of us would race for glory, dragging the race into the present.
Traditions were changing back then and I hear my voice and thoughts resonating to the same tune as that of the elders back in my day.
Richie Porte’s progression from a young rider on Team Genesys to the consummate profession he now is on Team Sky is symptomatic of the changes that are occurring in the sport.
The race itself nearly disappeared from the race calendar 11 years ago due to financial difficulties but was thankfully picked up by the Tour de France organisers ASO.
Paris-Nice became a globally televised event, a race to watch and the breeding ground of future Grand Tour champions.
2013 is Richie’s second year on the Sky team. He realised on signing that he was joining a team of champions and that opportunities for leadership would be few.
Richie isn’t a risk taker and with Sky he sought to grow into his career without the pressures of a leadership position.
The 2013 Paris-Nice was the first time he has taken the role of team leader from the outset and he has now proven he can add that laurel to his palmeries.
While he has announced that he will resume his position as one of the team’s domestiques in the coming events, his experience over the past week should have given him some confidence to step up and be counted in the future for a Grand Tour role.
The biggest question of all will be, with which team?