By Martyn Herman
DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) – Australian Richie Porte says he has a “massive opportunity” to win this year’s Tour de France but still makes former team mate Chris Froome the favorite to claim a fourth yellow jersey.
Porte, who joined BMC Racing from Team Sky in 2016, is seen as the man most likely to stop Briton Froome over the next three weeks and general manager Jim Ochowicz said his team’s “singular goal” is to put the 32-year-old on the podium.
In Olympic road champion Greg van Avermaet, this year’s Tour de Suisse runner-up Damiano Caruso and former Sky man Nicolas Roche, Porte has a powerful unit behind him and he oozed confidence at a news conference on Thursday.
“It’s a massive opportunity for me,” the Tasmanian told reporters inside a huge conference hall alongside the River Rhine, not far from the site of Saturday’s Grand Depart.
“It’s the first time in my career I have a fully dedicated team to me so it’s my chance to have as good a crack as winning this race as possible.
“I think I’m closer to (Froome) this year. I’ve beaten him in the races I’ve done so far, but that doesn’t count for anything once you get to July 1, that’s another level.
“He is the defending champion and for me the big favorite.”
Porte out-rode Froome during the Criterium du Dauphine, often seen as a barometer of form going into the Tour. Twelve months ago, he lost nearly 2 minutes after a puncture on the second stage but still ended up fifth after matching Froome over the punishing climbs of the Pyrenees and Alps.
This year’s route includes only three summit finishes and Porte, who announced on Thursday he had signed a one-year contract extension, believes the race will be less easy for Team Sky to control. “It could be a free-for-all,” he said.
“On paper it’s not the average Tour de France so it could all come down to the time trial in Marseilles (on the penultimate day of the Tour).
“It’s not going to be an easy lap around France. There will be good battles, like on the stage into Chambery. It’s not a perfect parcours but whoever wins it will be a worthy winner.”
With the usual mind games going on in the build-up to the start – Team Sky have named Porte as favorite – the Australian just wants get on his bike and ride.
“They are just playing a game,” he said.” Behind closed doors they think they have the guy to win it. And he knows how to win it. He’ll be better than at the Dauphine.
“I’m just excited to get it started to be honest.”
Classics expert van Avermaet, who won a stunning gold in Rio last year, thinks Porte has every chance to break Sky’s grip.
“The main goal is to support Richie and get him in yellow and he has the capability to do it,” the Belgian said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Alison Williams)