Porte power can win the Tour de France
"RICHIE Porte can win the Tour de France" - it's a bold claim, but the man making it knows his peloton from the puncheur and reckons the 33-year-old BMC Racing star is primed.
About to cover his 20th Tour de France, SBS sports commentator Michael Tomalaris believes he may be celebrating an Aussie rider in the yellow jersey come the final-day ride into Paris - the second after Cadel Evans in 2011.
Porte made a dramatic exit from the Tour last year when a sickening crash on the ninth stage left him with a fractured pelvis, broken collarbone, extensive abrasions and shattered dreams.
Twelve months on, however, he is in peak condition and is Tomalaris's pick to stand on top of the podium at the completion of the most prestigious of cycling's three Grand Tours.
Tomalaris concedes the Tasmanian has never won a Tour stage, but says that surely is all about to change.
"Richie recently won the Tour de Suisse and he had plenty in his pocket at the end, he rode brilliantly," Tomalaris said.
"He's now in excellent form ... at the peak of his career, so I believe he can win."
Porte has the backing of BMC Racing, which Tomalaris describes as "the dream team".
There have been suggestions this will be Porte's final Tour with BMC before heading over to Trek-Segafredo. For now, it's business as usual as they embark on the 21 stages that make up the gruelling 3351km journey.
Tomalaris said Porte would be supported by a formidable septet, including Olympic road race champion Greg Van Avermaet, two-time Tour fifth-place finisher Tejay van Garderen and veteran Australian rider Simon Gerrans, who joined the team at the beginning of this year.
Also running shotgun will be Italian Damiano Caruso, who finished fifth overall at the recent Criterium du Dauphine.
He is poised to play a pivotal role in the mountains for Porte deeper into the race, as will Swiss dynamos Stefan Kung and Michael Schar and New Zealand's Patrick Bevin, 27, who has been in great form this year.
But it is fellow Aussie Gerrans who Porte will look to most to help him end the reign of four-time champion Chris Froome.
"Richie has chosen Gerrans to be his right-hand man," Tomalaris said.
"BMC has an interesting history - including Cadel's win in 2011 - and they are hanging their hats on Richie Porte in 2018 with a team that has so much talent, their versatility is very similar to the one Cadel had in 2011, so I hope Porte stays upright and gives the Tour a royal shake."
Tomalaris is also backing Australia's Michael Matthews to defend his title as the most consistent sprinter in the Tour.
While Matthews has said defending his Tour points classification title is not a priority this year - as his focus will be adding to his three Tour stage wins and supporting Team Sunweb leader Tom Dumoulin - there's no doubt he will be seeing green all the way.
"Mathews will definitely be up for the challenge of the green jersey again," Tomalaris said. "(But) this also depends on whether (Peter) Sagan will still be around in the Tour's third week."
Sagan was disqualified from the Tour last year after he was deemed to have caused the horrendous stage-four crash that sent Mark Cavendish home with a fractured shoulder blade.
The Slovakian is keen to redeem himself in 2018.
"Sagan won the green jersey five times between 2012 to 2016," Tomalaris said.
"He will be looking to get some challenges and stage wins in the Tour's first week - it will come down to the wire between Sagan and Matthews."
As for riding under the radar, Tomalaris said there's some other Aussies beyond Porte and Mathews the couch pelaton should not overlook.
"Damien Howson of Mitchelton-Scott, he will provide a lot of support for British rider Adam Yates," he said.
"With Mathew Hayman, who's 40, they are putting all their eggs in one basket and going for an overall rather than individual stage wins."
As a pointer to the many fans in Australia who will be glued to their televisions or laptops to catch all the action, Tomalaris says the ninth stage route, 156.5km from Arras to Roubaix, will take in 15 stretches of cobblestones and is bound be an exciting spectacle.
"I'm really looking forward to the Robaix stage," he said.
"It's a very interesting stage, as is stage 17, which is just 65km at Saint-Lary-Soulan - it will be go, go, go from start to finish."
Tomalaris said Tour director Christian Prudhomme had blended a judicious mix of tradition and innovation on this year's routes, making all 21 stages essential viewing.
"It's really interesting what he is trying to do with the Tour," Tomalaris said.
"Traditionally there are many long stages, which are endurance tests for riders and the viewers. It's a global TV event so he is mixing it up to make it interesting for viewers and competitors."