“I don’t think I’ve got the legs I’ve had for the past two years.”
Richie Porte was either playing the ultimate game of fox or he was genuinely unsure of his condition when he spoke on TV ahead of yesterday’s Willunga Hill stage.
There’s every reason to believe Porte’s doubts, given his task this week was to look after Rohan Dennis, the Tour’s defending champion.
No one has ever won back to back Tours Down Under, and BMC had no choice but to try and make that happen.
Equally though, if it any point Dennis’ legs were to fail him then it would be down to Porte to save the week for BMC.
If you look back at the video for the past two years you could almost just change the team colours and you’ve have a repeat of what we saw yesterday.
In 2014 Porte attacked the race with just under three kms to go and had no challenges.
Last year, he waited until there was 1.2km to race before making a move on Cadel Evans, dropping him at 1.1km and finally shedding Rohan Dennis with another surge at 600m to go.
Yesterday Sky’s Sergio Henao was the last man standing as Porte again went with 1.1km remaining. The Colombian pushed him hard though, Porte only riding clear in the final 350m to snare his hat-trick of Willunga wins.
It’s a wonderful start to the year for Porte, winning in spectacular style in his first race for his new team.
But could it have been perfect?
Rohan Dennis went in as defending champion, but has ended up outside the top 15.
He nearly won the Corkscrew stage but not because of his climbing. Porte gapped him on the climb but then had to wait for Dennis on the flatter part of the descent.
Dennis was strong enough to almost win, but if Porte had been unencumbered on the climb, we can only guess what might have happened.
On the stage to Victor Harbor, no one really went for it on the climb up Crow’s Nest Rd, but when we did, it was Henao and Porte who animated proceedings.
The climb was too far way for Porte Crucially BMC did let Gerrans get away for the win and the time bonus, and that was probably a moment where they underestimated what the Orica-GreenEDGE champion is capable of.
And we saw what happened yesterday where Porte finally had licence to roam.
Ifs, buts and maybes – but take out Gerrans’ win in Stage 4, which in theory was one for the sprinters, and there goes the 10-second time bonus.
Gerrans goes into today’s final stage with a nine-second lead, but how easily it could’ve have been Richie Porte in the Ochre jersey.
There’s no doubt he has the ability to win the Tour Down Under, but if Porte is still with BMC next year, he has to come to the TDU as the undisputed team leader.
The two General Classification options may be viable in a three-week race, but in a six-day race, I’m not so sure.