Richie Porte during the 2017 Paris-Nice ©A.S.O./A.Broadway

36-year-old Richie Porte is uncontestably a Paris-Nice expert. He will be the only two-time winner of the race taking starter’s orders for the 79th edition in the Yvelines department on Sunday 7th March. He is also the only rider to have triumphed twice since Alberto Contador in 2010. His successes in 2013 and 2015, when riding for Team Sky, chiefly as a super domestique for Chris Froome on the Tour de France, shaped his career, until he experienced a second youth last September to finish third on the Tour de France!

He is only the second Australian to have climbed onto the final podium of the Tour de France (after Cadel Evans, second in 2007 and 2008, before winning in 2011), finishing behind Slovenians Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic. This allowed him a triumphant return home in spite of the travel restrictions in force during the off-season. With his wife and two children, including little Eloise, born during the Tour de France 2020, they touched down on 5th December in Perth to start the required fourteen days of isolation down under before moving onto to his native Tasmania.

In January, he was victorious like almost every year at the summit of Willunga Hill (for the seventh time!) during the Santos Festival of Cycling, which replaced the Tour Down Under, bringing together a field exclusively made up of antipodean riders this year. A member of the national team, he won the queen stage ahead of his young team-mate Luke Plapp, 20 years old, while apologising for not being on his usual level of form for January.

But what sort of shape will he be in as he tackles his first European test of 2021? “I can’t really say what my ambitions are for this edition of Paris-Nice,” he replies. “I’ve just arrived from Australia and even in normal conditions it’s already an extremely complicated race to win. This time, I just don’t know what sort of form I’ll be in. I’ve only raced in January in Australia, whereas my rivals have already taken part in very competitive races in Europe.”

However, he knows all about the nature of the Race to the Sun. “Paris-Nice is not an easy race to win, so to have won it twice is gratifying,” he adds. “It’s a special race for me. Because I live in Monaco, I mainly train on the roads around Nice. So, I’ll have the feeling of racing at home towards the end of the week. It’s also a tricky race, with sidewinds on the first days and the mountains on the second weekend. It’s a difficult race for everybody”.

His 9th participation on the Race to the Sun will also witness another return ‘home’, re-joining the British team that is now known as Ineos Grenadiers and whose leader, for the occasion, is likely to be Tao Geoghegan Hart. The winner of the Giro d’Italia 2020 has already proved to be at ease on the steep roads of Southern France, with 10th position (and a 2nd place finish on the last stage) on the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var. “We have a very strong team for this edition of Paris-Nice,” concludes Richie Porte. “First and foremost, I want to play a role as part of group and help the team to win, whoever it is with. Most importantly, I can’t wait to get started!”