Paris-Nice cycling race reels from Porte's withdrawal
Australia's Richie Porte on the podium after winning stage five of the Tour Down Under near Adelaide on January 25, 2014 - by Mark Gunter
The Tasmanian was shifted at the last moment to the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy next week after his Sky teammate, Tour de France champion Chris Froome was forced out of that with a back injury.
That moved sparked anger from Paris-Nice organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), who were relying on a thrilling battle between Porte, Giro D'Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali and world champion Rui Costa.
"We find it cavalier to have the reigning (Paris-Nice) champion pull out just before the start," said ASO official and Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme.
"We were told that to win points for the world rankings, the Tirreno was more favourable (to Porte) due to its technical characteristics and the presence of an (individual) time-trial."
The course of the 'Race to the Sun' had already caused some waves in the peloton due to its profile, deemed not to the advantage of riders such as Porte, who usually gain ground in time-trials or on summit finishes.
Paris-Nice had been one of Porte's major objectives in the early part of this season before he makes the transition from chief support to major Tour leader.
Having been Froome's chief lieutenant during last year's Tour de France and a domestique for Bradley Wiggins in his Grand Boucle victory the year before, Porte will make his debut as a major stage race team leader at May's Giro d'Italia.
But with Froome now sitting out the Tirreno-Adriatico, that race offers a more suitable course for Porte's abilities with two summit finishes and both an individual and a team time-trial.
It means one of the main draws will be missing when the Paris-Nice gets underway on Sunday with a 162.5km ride around the Paris suburbs.
- Suited to one-day specialists -
Despite Italian Nibali and American former Tour white jersey winner Tejay van Garderen being in the field, the course appears more suited to the one-day specialists.
Chief amongst those is Portuguese Costa, who has switched from Movistar to Lampre this season.
The 27-year-old has good stage-race pedigree having won the Tour of Switzerland the last two years.
And he is confident he can put in a good performance, despite usually riding the Tirreno-Adriatico at this time of year.
"I don't have a bucket-load of experience in the Paris-Nice. In the past I normally opted to ride the Tirreno-Adriatico but, in 2013, we decided to change programme given we felt the French course better suited my abilities," he said.
Costa crashed out in the second stage, bringing a premature close to his challenge.
But he agrees that this year's course will suit him.
"It is a curious profile, particularly without any individual time-trial stages or tough uphill finishes.
"So it means that you have to pay attention on all the stages and every kilometre of every stage.
"I think this kind of profile will be ideal for me, in the sense of improving my form and fitness ahead of the (Spring) Classics.
"It looks more like a series of one-day races rather than a regular one-week stage race. It will certainly be a new and exciting experience."
Other punchers who may be looking to impress are AG2R's Frenchman Romain Bardet and Australian Tour Down Under winner Simon Gerrans.
Home hopes of at least stage successes will come in the shape of the ever-present Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) and Thomas Voekler (Europcar) while Belgian one-day specialist Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) could also shake things up.