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Can Porte and van Garderen play happy families at BMC?

Richie Porte has been waiting a long time - but so has Tejay. Who will be the main man? (Image: AFP)
Expert
17th July, 2015
16
1375 Reads

It is no secret that Richie Porte is leaving Team Sky to chase his dreams of being a team leader elsewhere.

That those dreams will probably be realised at BMC is yet to be confirmed officially, but can almost certainly be taken as gospel.

One wonders then what Tejay van Garderen thinks of the matter.

Van Garderen is living his own dream leading the BMC squad in the biggest races on the calender. He currently sits in second place overall at the Tour de France and is relishing his role as the team’s number one man after a pained apprenticeship under former Tour champion Cadel Evans.

In those days, van Garderen had to temper his own ambitions to support his team leader, a task he found increasingly frustrating as Evans began to fade as a legitimate force in cycling.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the Tour in 2012 where van Garderen proved to be the stronger cyclist despite riding for Evans. He managed a fifth place finish, two places higher and almost five minutes quicker than his leader.

By 2013 there was a growing feeling that van Garderen would lead that year’s Tour squad. At BMC’s season launch van Garderen played down the speculation stating that, “He (Evans) is the leader for sure.”

But by the next breath he was talking up his own chances.

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“I think I’ll be given a bit of a free role to ride my own race. If Cadel is leader at the Tour, that doesn’t mean I’m not allowed to get a result.”

The inference that he was not content to lose time riding a support role was obvious. He desperately wanted to be the number one man and he was going to do everything in his power to prove he was capable of being one.

Neither master nor apprentice made much of an impact at the 2013 Tour though, finishing 39th and 45th overall, but by 2014, with Evans out of the Tour for the first time since 2005, van Garderen took over as the protected rider and produced another 5th on general classification.

Now, at the halfway mark of this year’s Tour, the American is sitting in second position overall and is a strong chance to finish on the podium when the race finally comes to an end in Paris next week.

Based on those results van Garderen should feel safe in the knowledge that he is BMC’s undisputed go-to man when it comes to big stages races.

But will he stay that way?

Enter Richie Porte.

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Here is a rider who has had an even longer apprenticeship than van Garderen. He has ridden in support of Alberto Contador, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in Grand Tours, having forged a reputation as a ‘super-domestique’ along the way.

He has also proved his worth as a team leader in smaller stage races having claimed overall victory in Paris-Nice (twice), Volta a Catalunya, Giro del Trentino and Volta ao Algarve.

His limited opportunities as leader at Grand Tour level have not ended well, but one of those was as a ‘Plan B’ when Froome crashed out of the Tour last year and the other was at this year’s Giro where his chances were ended by injury.

But Porte doesn’t want to be second or third in line for team leadership any more. He wants to shed his ‘super-domestique’ persona and be front and centre when the big races roll around.

And when we talk big races, we mean Grand Tours. And when we talk Grand Tours, we mean the Tour de France.

And the Tour de France is all about a certain yellow jersey which van Garderen has been dreaming about wearing since he was nine years old.

And the only way you get to wear that is if you are a team leader.

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Ahem, Tejay, meet Richie.

Awkward.

How exactly BMC will assimilate Porte into their squad without ruffling van Garderen’s feathers remains to be seen. Both riders appear to have the same goals and will be competing against each other to lead BMC’s squad in the most prestigious races.

Yes, there are three Grand Tours per year, but Tour leadership is the one most coveted, and neither rider will want to be relegated to a support role. Both have been there, done that.

Van Garderen is the incumbent and the team should be loyal to him. He is an incredibly consistent and solid rider and if he can hold onto a podium spot at this year’s Tour, I can’t see him being usurped in favour of Porte at next year’s Grande Boucle.

While he is not an attacking rider, his defensive qualities and ability to minimise his loses, makes him a safe option for a good result. Whether that is enough to propel him to the top of the general classification is doubtful, but he is genuine top five material as he has already proved.

Porte on the other hand is more of a wild card. On his day he has few equals in the mountains as he showed on Stage 10 at this year’s Tour. After pacing his leader on the earlier parts of the climb to La Pierre St. Martin, he recovered sufficiently to chase down Nairo Quinatana and finish second to Froome in what was a master class of mountain riding.

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The trouble is, brilliant displays like those are too often followed by a dramatic dip in performance a day later resulting in irretrievable time losses.

Porte’s ‘bad days’ have unfortunately and perhaps unfairly defined him. Everybody knows they will come and they wait for them, circling like vultures to pick at the remnants of his GC aspirations.

But imagine if he could eliminate the bad days? BMC must think that he can. They have expressed interest in him for years and now are poised to pounce.

If Porte does join BMC’s party, the team will have some interesting selection and man management issues to face next July.

Do they play it safe and select van Garderen, knowing that his consistent riding will at least get them into the top ten?

Or do they take a risk and dive into the unknown with Porte? If he puts it all together and eliminates the dips in his performances, then the results could be spectacular. It is a big ‘if’ though.

For mine, I’d probably go with the safe option.

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