Former coach tips podium finish for Porte

Richie PorteTHE coach who set Richie Porte on the road to cycling stardom has no doubt where he is heading in this year’s Tour de France.

“I expect to see a Tasmanian on the podium in Paris,” said Andrew Christie-Johnston as his star pupil surged up to second in the world’s biggest bike race.

“He’s doing very well. There’s only one guy in front of him.

“I’m sure he would love to finish on the podium, but he’s second so why not shoot for the win?”

On the first rest day of the three-week Grand Tour, the Launceston rider sits 2 minutes 23 seconds behind stage 10 winner Vincenzo Nibali.

With two-time winner Alberto Contador joining reigning champion Chris Froome among the high-profile withdrawals, Porte has narrowed to a $6.50 second favourite, having begun the Tour as a $67 outsider.

Christie-Johnston helped Porte transition from a triathlete when he joined the Tasmanian-based Praties team before breaking into the pro ranks in Europe and remains in daily contact with the 29-year-old.

“We exchange emails or texts at the end of each stage and he sounds very calm about it all,” he said.

“It’s nice to hear how he is feeling after each stage. He is confident.

“He’s in great form. I think he’s handling it very well.”

Christie-Johnston said it had been a tough season for Porte who was expected to lead Team Sky into the Giro d’Italia but was forced to withdraw through illness.

This left him fresher for the Tour de France and in better shape to fill Froome’s shoes as lead rider.

He believes Porte has what it takes to beat Nibali as well as third-placed Alejandro Valverde, American hope Tejay van Garderen and reigning world champion Rui Costa and suspects the result may be determined by the penultimate stage 54-kilometre individual time trial into Perigueux.

“The way it’s going I think it will come down to the time trial to decide the podium.

“Richie has not done a time trial for a while but he’s always been very good at them.

“He’s lighter than he’s ever been and when they come later in tours he is at his best, but it’s hard to say whether he can out-time-trial Nibali.

“It’s amazing when you look at his time trials, how many times Richie has been in the top few riders. He’ll be strong and will need to be.

“I do think he will finish on the podium because the other people he has to content with I don’t think are as good at the time trial. I don’t think Valverde has even beaten Richie in a time trial.”

With some 1700 kilometres still to ride, Christie-Johnston said anything could happen and consistency would be pivotal to the result.

“At the moment it seems that something major is happening every night,” he said.

“It’s not so much about necessarily having super days just making sure you don’t have bad days when rivals can put a lot of time into you.”

Despite being on holiday in Queensland with his family, the 41-year-old manager of the renamed Avanti Racing Team said he was glued to his television each night cheering on Porte.

“He will always be part of our team. He always wants to be part of our training camps, he stays with us at nationals and is a part of our family.

“It’s a team sport and he remembers where he came from and we’re very grateful for that.

“If he were to finish on the podium it would be massive for Tasmanian cycling but also for Australian cycling.”

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