Australian Richie Porte on Thursday dismissed talk of him being the Tour de France favourite as mind games by rival Chris Froome’s Sky team.

Three-time Tour winner Froome had on Wednesday described Porte as “the man to beat” after the Tasmanian’s strong showing at the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month.

But BMC’s Porte said he wasn’t fooled by Sky’s eulogies.

“That’s just one of the games they play. At the end of the day, behind closed doors they think they’ve got the guy to do it,” said Porte, 32.

“He’s got the track record. Chris is obviously the one with the biggest target on his back — he’s the defending champion.

“But I don’t think it’s just going to be between Chris and I, there’s so many brilliant bike riders here, you can’t just focus on two guys, it’s more than a two-horse race.”

Porte used to be a team-mate of Froome’s and helped him win the 2013 and 2015 Tours before moving to BMC, with whom he has just signed a contract extension tying him down for next season.

But having spent many years in the shadow of Froome, and Bradley Wiggins before that, Porte’s form at the Criterium du Dauphine, where he lost out on overall victory to Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang after a tactical mistake on the final day saw him distanced on the penultimate climb, emphasised his stature as one of the best stage racers in the world.

And the experience of leading such an important race as the Dauphine gave Porte a hint of what will be awaiting him if he manages to grasp the Tour’s yellow jersey at any stage.

“I got a little bit of a taste of that at the Dauphine with having the jersey — you have to do the anti-doping test and the protocol with the media afterwards.

“It does take away a little bit of your recovery but it is manageable.”

Yet Porte believes Froome’s experience on this stage does set him apart from most of his rivals.

“Chris has obviously won three Tours, there’s no reason he can’t win a fourth — he’s the big favourite here.

“He’s going to be in a lot better form than in the Dauphine. He knows how to take the pressure but so does Alberto (Contador) and so does Nairo (Quintana) and a few other guys.”

– ‘Free for all’ –

Froome’s form at the Dauphine was underwhelming where he finished fourth overall, losing two places on the final stage when he was dropped by other rivals on the climb to the finish.

Porte even came past him having started the climb around a minute behind.

But with only three high mountain summit finishes, Porte believes there will be more to this Tour than a simple battle on the upper slopes in the Alps and Pyrenees.

“It will be a free for all! Yes, there are only three mountain (uphill) finishes and two time-trials, but it’s a hard course.

“The road’s obviously going to settle the battle anyhow, it just depends how it’s raced — I don’t expect it to be an easy lap around France.”

Porte believes that some of the lumpy stages outside of the mountains or even those within the biggest mountain ranges but that finish in a valley, will make for entertaining and aggressive racing, such as stage nine that ends in Chambery after cresting seven peaks.

“For sure there are going to be good battles on those stages — like the stage into Chambery. For sure it’s going to be a select group that arrives there,” he said. –┬áAgence France-Presse

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