By Rupert Guinness
Australian Richie Porte understands Tour de France boss Christian Prudhomme’s anger over his late withdrawal from the Paris-Nice race he won last year and is owned by the same organisation, to replace injured Chris Froome in the Italian Tirreno-Adriatico event.
But Porte, 29, says the eight day Tirreno-Adriatico, commencing on Wendesday, is more suited to his strengths with its team and individual time trials as well as two summit finishes that will not on the route of Paris-Nice that was due to start Sunday.
Porte believes the Italian race, which Tour champion Froome withdrew due to back injury, will also give him an opportunity to gauge where he stands against some of his rivals for the Giro d’Italia from May 9 to June.
At Tirreno-Adriatico they will include Australian Cadel Evans (BMC), Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Italian Michele Scarponi (Astana).
Porte, the first Australian to win Paris-Nice last year, will lead the Sky team for the first time in a grand tour when he lines up for the Giro.
But he is keen to see where he stands against his rivals, despite a strong to the season that includes a third place finish in the Australian road championship, fourth overall and a stage win in the Tour Down Under World Tour opener in South Australia and second place overall in the Ruta del Sol stage race in Spain last month.
"I understand where he’s coming from," Porte told Fairfax media of Prudhomme’s reaction.
"Paris-Nice is a great race that has a lot of history.
"We weren’t disrespecting [Prudhomme], or his race or his organisation.
"But when ‘Froomey’ is out of Tirreno and I’m on Paris-Nice on a course that doesn’t suit me then it makes sense to shift me into the Italian race."
Porte has also taken his race switch as another sign that Sky recognises him as leader, given that 2012 Tour champion Bradley Wiggins is entered for Tirreno-Adriatico.
"It does give me a certain confidence that the team are prepared to shuffle me like that [to lead in place of Froome]," Porte said.
"Brad is there also in Tirreno, [although] he has changed his ambitions a little bit.
"It makes me realise that I made the right decision in re-signing with Sky."
Porte is confident that the new-look Sky team for Tirreno-Adriatico will still be up for the race without Froome, and will help position him well for a top overall finish as early as on stage one – a 16.9km team time trial from Donoratico to San Vincenzo.
"At the end of the day we are all professional bike riders. We ride team time trials a lot, so it shouldn’t be a major hiccup or anything," Porte said.
For Porte, this will be his first start in Tirreno-Adriatico. Since turning professional in 2010, he has always raced in Paris-Nice at this time of the year.
Asked if the myriad of punchy, steep hills of Tirreno-Adriatico might prove to be a new challenge, Porte laughed and said: “At the end of the day, a climb is a climb. They are never nice.
"I’m just happy to go there, have a great week of racing and then find out where I am at.
"Then we can work on what I need to do before May [and the start of the Giro]."