Australian rider Richie Porte celebrates while crossing the finish line to win stage seven of the Paris-Nice cycling race.
Australian rider Richie Porte celebrates while crossing the finish line to win stage seven of the Paris-Nice cycling race. SEBASTIEN NOGIER

Aussie cyclist on track for Tour de France

AS RICHIE Porte rode away from Alberto Contador as if the Spaniard was standing still on the Paris-Nice queen stage at the weekend, it confirmed what many had hoped and now know.

The Australian's Tour de France ambitions are right on track and all the ingredients are coming together for a genuine assault on the yellow jersey in July.

The big challenge now facing Porte - who has been flying since his Tour Down Under victory in January - is how best to manage his form over the next four months so he arrives at the start of the Tour in optimal condition.

Porte's exploits on the Col de la Couillole on Saturday night showed he is climbing as well as anyone in the world.

The final 3.2km which he described as "absolute hell" was the highest summit finish in the race's 75-year history and he made it his own.

Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana weren't there but plenty of others were including Contador, Sergio Henao, Dan Martin, Simon Yates, Tony Gallopin, Julian Alaphilippe, Jacob Fuglsang and Jarlinson Pantano.

When Porte launched with 3km to go, no one could respond.

While he danced on his pedals with that steely-eyed resolve, Contador, a seven-time Grand Tour winner including two Tour de France, was grimacing in pain and trying to keep up.

Porte was once Contador's apprentice at Saxo Bank and now the wheel is turning.

"It's good signs for me," Porte said.

"I have a new coach David Bailey who has really been good this last year and I think we are on a good path for July.

"My climbing is up there with the best in the world. So we'll take it race by race now but I'm looking forward to July for sure."

The BMC leader crossed the finish line 21 seconds up on Contador and 32 seconds ahead of the best of the rest.

It wasn't anywhere near enough to put him back into overall contention after a disastrous Stage 2 saw him lose 14 minutes when the race splintered in horrendous weather conditions.

But that was the other significant point about Porte's stage win on Saturday; that he was willing and able to respond to the earlier setback and disappointment.

There is no such thing as a smooth sailing three-week Grand Tour, as Porte well knows.

In last year's Tour de France he punctured at a crucial moment on Stage 2 and was held up by a motorbike crash on Stage 12, but punched on to salvage a very credible fifth overall.

The evolution of Porte has unearthed his ability to maintain focus when things don't go to plan and a determination to do something about it.

"I wasn't always easy to deal with this week," he said, reflecting on Stage 2 at Paris-Nice.

"But I must take my hat off to the team, they were absolutely incredible all week and they never lost faith in me."

Unlike last year when he went to the Tour de France as a co-leader with Tejay van Garderen, Porte now has BMC's unconditional support.

He is climbing and racing better than ever, is brimming with confidence and at 32 is right in his prime and it shows.