Team Sky returns to the Tour de France with options of a strong one-two punch in the run for the yellow jersey.
With Richie Porte lining up as a strong wingman to pre-race favorite Chris Froome, Team Sky could very well repeat its Tour dominance of a year ago, when Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour and Froome rode to second.
Porte, looking down the barrel at a very mountainous route, says he's ready to sacrifice his chances to help Froome become the first African-born rider to win the Tour.
"Chris is the leader. It's a much different Tour than last year, and chances are, I am going to have to sacrifice somewhere," Porte told VeloNews via telephone. "This time last year, they realized with Bradley and Chris, they could play two GC guys, and it worked out quite well. If it all goes to plan, I can play a bit of a card, to take some pressure off Chris. But the goal is to put Chris in yellow."
Porte insists there will not be a repeat of the internal drama between Wiggins and Froome last year, when the two butted heads on the road to Paris.
In sharp contrast, Porte and Froome are close friends off the bike, and the Tasmanian vows to put his strength firmly behind the hopes of Kenyan-born Froome.
"I understand the pecking order," Porte continued. "To see a good mate potentially win the Tour, I am happy to be there and get involved and make sacrifices. That's what cycling is all about. If all goes well, we can take time on our rivals in the time trials, and if we have some luck, there's no reason why we cannot have two guys on GC."
While Froome has dominated the 2013 season so far, victorious in four of the five stage races he started, Porte has emerged as a legitimate podium threat as well.
Last year, Porte posted solid domestique duty for Wiggins and Froome. For 2013, Team Sky brass gave Porte more freedom and he's taken full advantage of it, winning two stages and the overall at Paris-Nice, while taking second at Critérium International, Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country), and Critérium du Dauphiné.
For Porte, it's all about filling the void left by Wiggins, who decided to target the Giro d'Italia and has since flamed out with injuries, illness, and setbacks, and will not defend his yellow jersey.
With Wiggins out of the picture, Porte has stepped up tremendously.
"The team's changed a lot from last year. Last year, it was all about Brad," Porte continued. "From Paris-Nice forward, both Chris and I have stepped up. Chris has had a fantastic season, winning everything except Tirreno-Adriatico to [Vincenzo] Nibali. To be honest, nothing counts when you get to the Tour. Chris is going to be the favorite, he deserves it, but the Tour is what the entire season is going to be judged on."
Porte also said Sky's lineup, revealed Thursday, is up to the task of carrying Froome to yellow all the way to Paris.
"We are a young team. We're all behind Chris and very motivated," Porte said. "Geraint [Thomas] will be the road captain. We have strong riders for the climbers. We are actually all pretty good mates. That'll help us that we're such a tight team. As a team, we are ready to fight for Froomey."
Contador is the main rival
For rivals, Porte singled out Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) as the most dangerous.
"He's the one who's won the most," he said of Contador. "There are five or six guys who really could give us some stress. Alberto, he's the main one that we're watching."
Porte admitted he was somewhat surprised at Contador at the Dauphiné earlier this month. The Spaniard complained of suffering from allergies and rode a dismal time trial, perhaps one of the worst of his career. Porte, his two-minute man, passed him late in the stage.
"I don't know if Alberto was not well, but I was his two-minute man, and I caught him, and I don't think I had a brilliant time trial, either," Porte said. "It's not like we can go and write him off, but that's not ideal."
While the mountainous Tour parcours will favor the Spanish climbers such as Contador, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Porte said Froome will be able to hold his own in the Alps in the Tour's third decisive final week.
"You can win the Tour in the time trials, but you can lose it on the mountains," he said. "We're going up l'Alpe d'Huez twice, Mont Ventoux, it's a much more mountainous Tour this year. I don't see the time trials being anywhere as decisive as last year. Chris is one of the purest time trialists and best climbers in the mountains. Chris can win the Tour in any terrain."