Richie Porte targets 2014 Giro d'Italia - but just how many GC riders can Team Sky support?
Australian wants maglia rosa - but where does that leave Colombia pair Uran and Henao who are currently riding the race?
Richie Porte, who last week extended his contract with Team Sky, has said that he wants to lead it in next year’s Giro d’Italia. With speculation continuing over Sir Bradley Wiggins’ commitment to helping Chris Froome’s in the forthcoming Tour de France, plus the team’s Colombian pairing of Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao said to be unsettled, the British outfit’s undoubted wealth of GC-level talent looks set to continue to provide headaches for its management.
By offering a contract extension to the 28-year-old Australian last week, Sky made a big statement about their future hopes for Porte, a former wearer of the maglia rosa and winner of the best young rider’s classification at the Giro d’Italia while at Saxo Bank, and the victor of the overall at Paris-Nice in March.
With the ink still drying on that two-year contract extension, the Monaco-based Porte made the scale of his ambitions clear to Australian website SBS Cycling Central.
“I'd like to go the Giro next year and have a good crack at that,” he explained. “If I can do a similar programme next year, with my own team around me, that'd be great.
“If I can do any grand tour as a leader, that'd be a dream, and I think that'll happen for me next year.”
Reading between the lines, it’s unlikely that Porte would have made such a public statement had he not had some signal from Team Sky that there was a realistic prospect of his spearheading its challenge in the 2014 Giro, which will begin in Belfast.
Following his Paris-Nice victory, Porte is likely to have attracted attention from other teams but says it was an easy decision to remain at Team Sky, which he joined ahead of the 2011 season.
“To be honest, anyone that knows anything about cycling knows that for a rider like myself Sky is the best team to be in.
“The grass isn't always greener is it? In any other team I doubt I would have been able to win at Paris-Nice for example, because we wouldn't have been able to control the race the way we were able to.
“Sky can send two teams to two concurrent races, and still be competitive in both,” added Porte, whose Paris-Nice campaign coincided with Froome challenging for the win at Tirreno-Adriatico, where he was beaten into second place by Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali.
“It wasn't rocket science, I'm really happy to re-sign here,” added Porte. “It's the best set-up team at the moment. I don't just say that because I've re-signed. It just is.”
He insisted that his decision to remain with Sky should not be seen as a snub to Australia’s own WorldTour team, Orica-GreenEdge.
“It's not about being unpatriotic or not,” maintained Porte, who comes from Tasmania.
“At the moment it's not a team where GC is a focus. If I was to go there you'd have to bring a few guys along with you. At this point in my career, I don't need stress thinking about unknowns, I just want to put my head down and learn the trade and here I can learn it off the best.”
Team Sky isn’t short of riders coming into their prime years who can challenge for GC in Grand Tours in the seasons ahead.
Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford insists that even though Wiggins has made noises about defending his Tour de France title, Froome, aged 27, will be the undisputed leader in the Tour de France.
But at 33 years of age, Wiggins is running out of opportunities to add to that Tour de France win last year, and there’s a school of thought that if he doesn’t win the Giro – and it’s fair to say he’s behind where most people expected him to be at this stage of the race – he may look to ride his own race when the Tour starts on Corsica at the end of next month.
In recent days, Froome has been linked to a move to BMC Racing. Whether or not there’s any substance to that rumour, a challenge to his authority from Wiggins during the Tour may help him make his mind up that he’s better off at a team where he can assume the role of undisputed leader.
Then there’s the issue of Rigoberto Uran, aged 26, and his fellow Colombian, Sergio Henao, 25 years of age. Both finished in the top 10 at last year’s Giro – Uran taking the white jersey – and both are currently in the top 10 of this year’s race and would occupy higher places had they not lost time in support of Wiggins.
While that is to be expected – they are there to support his challenge, not to fulfill their own ambitions, and are currently playing an admirable role in helping their team leader – the pair, who have been linked to Omega Pharma-Quick Step among other teams, are likely to attract attention from other squads.
Given that even a year ahead of time, names appear to be getting pencilled in for Sky’s Grand Tour leadership in 2014, that could help sway one or both of them into believing their own ambitions might be better fufilled elsewhere.
One solution might be to let one or both Colombians ride their own race in the Vuelta; Froome, who has ridden the Spanish race in each of the past two seasons, finishing second overall with Wiggins third in 2011, would at this stage seem unlikely to target the overall, although there’s always the chance he could use it to prepare for the World Championships, while it’s difficult to see Wiggins riding all three Grand Tours this year.