Richie Porte’s last Grand Tour might feature some personal exploits as well as his huge main assignment.
The Australian cycling star will be a crucial support rider for Ineos Grenadiers leader Richard Carapaz at the three-week Giro d’Italia, which starts on Friday night (AEST) in Budapest, Hungary.
The Ecuadorian national hero is the favorite and Ineos have put a powerful team around him.
Porte, 37, will retire at the end of this season and the Giro will be his 17th and final Grand Tour – he has done three Giros, 11 Tours de France and two Vuelta a Espana.
Apart from his third placing at the Tour de France two years ago, he has played key support roles for Tour winners Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome.
While Porte’s days as a general classification contender are behind him, he brings considerable firepower in support of Carapaz.
He will be an invaluable ally for the reigning Olympic road champion and 2019 Giro winner.
If the Giro pans out the right way, Porte might also test his own form in the mountains – possibly for a stage win or a high overall placing himself.
“The team’s kept me going in as not losing time on GC (general classification),” Porte said
“That can play into our hands later on, if I can be used tactically to draw out another GC guy.
“They’re not just going to let me ride away.
“I’m not going to have that support of the whole team around me. But if we can get through to the mountains in a good position, then I will have my own opportunities.”
But first and foremost, Porte is motivated to help Carapaz win.
“To support a guy like that, who you genuinely like – the same for me with Wiggo and Froomey – when you genuinely like them, it’s much easier to go into a bat for them,” he said.
It is fitting that Porte’s last Grand Tour is the Giro – in 2010, it was where the unheralded Australian announced himself as a genuine star with seventh overall and taking out the young rider classification.
He also wore the Giro’s famed pink jersey as a race leader.
“It was an absolute dream to wear that. I’ve had some really incredible memories here and it’s just nice to come back and finish up my career in a race I really love,” he said.
But in Porte’s rollercoaster career, the Giro has also taken its pound of flesh.
He failed to finish his last start at the Giro in 2015, after he was penalized for accepting a wheel from compatriot Simon Clarke in a gesture of friendship between riders from different teams that broke race rules.
Porte was docked two minutes later and a crash forced him out of the race.
“At the end of the day, I guess, rules are rules. Clarkey and I still laugh about that,” he said.
Now Porte is in awe of younger Australians such as sprinter Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), Jai Hindle (Bora-Hansgrohe), who was runner-up at the Giro two years ago, and rising star Lucas Hamilton (Bike Exchange-Jayco) .
Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ), Hamilton’s teammates Michael Hepburn and Damien Howson and Callum Scotson and Chris Hamilton (Team DSM) round out the Australian contingent.
“I almost find myself as a fan of these young kids … they’re just so good and so young,” Porte said of his compatriots.
“It’s quite exciting.”
The Australian BikeExchange-Jayco team also have an overall contender, with British rider Simon Yates leading their lineup.