Back in 2011, Australian sports fans were delighted when a 34-year-old from Geelong won the world’s biggest cycling race, the Tour de France.
This year a 32-year-old from Launceston might be ready to repeat Cadel Evans’ fantastic feat.
Evans won the prestigious event on his seventh attempt.
Tasmanian Richie Porte is about to undertake his seventh Tour, and comes into the race in top form, having won this year’s Tour Down Under and Tour de Romandie, before being pipped at the post in the key lead-up race, the Criterium du Dauphine.
“There’s good reason to get excited,” Robbie McEwen – a three-time winner of the Tour de France’s green jersey – told The New Daily.
“At the same time, I’m hoping people don’t get too far ahead of themselves thinking ‘we’ve got a bloke who’s got this won’, because there’s a very long way to go.
“I think consistency is the key for Richie … to not have any bad days or mistakes or moments of not paying attention and getting caught out, where he loses time, because that’s been his enemy in the past – flat tyres, crashes, being badly placed when the race hits a crosswind – he’s got to avoid those errors.”
Last year, Porte fought back strongly to finish fifth after suffering major time losses from a stage two puncture and a later crash with a motorbike.
It was a definite case of what might have been, and McEwen believes Porte would have finished second to three-time winner Chris Froome if not for those two pieces of misfortune.
British rider Froome is looking to make it a hat-trick of Tour de France victories, and has the advantage of being supported by the world’s leading team, Team Sky.
Porte rode for Team Sky, supporting Froome, from 2012 to 2015, before moving to Evans’ former team, BMC, to be their main man.
“Froome is still the favourite. He wasn’t far off in the Dauphine, although Richie was clearly riding better,” McEwen, who will head up SBS’ coverage of the Tour de France, explains.
“Froome was willing to be aggressive and attack, which he’s promised to do on the Tour, plus he’s got a very experienced team (and) the experience of winning it himself three times.”
Porte, one of nine Australians in the race, believes this year that it’s his time after years as a support rider.
“I just see this now as kind of a massive opportunity,” Porte told Fox Sports earlier this year.
“I feel I deserve this opportunity. I’ve been in the service of others and so to be outright leader, the faith that BMC is putting on me, I’d like to repay it.
“It’s a long road to the Tour but I’m motivated more than ever.”
Each year, the three-week Tour takes a different route, with varying combinations of faster, flat stages, challenging climbs through the mountains (this year’s course takes in all five mountain regions of France for the first time since 1992), and a couple of time trials.
Most of this year’s mountain stages are shorter than usual, which McEwen says will make things more exciting for spectators.
“They often become more out of control and aggressive because guys are willing to go out and attack earlier in stages, which makes it a lot more complicated [for the riders],” he said.
“That’s going to favour someone who’s brave enough and good enough to go on the attack.
“But the Tour de France always favours the strongest rider. That’s the pretty simple law of the jungle.”
So, is that Richie Porte?
“He’s got the stuff to win it,” McEwen said.