Richie Porte is optimistic about his chances of challenging for overall victory at the Tour de France after taking over as Team Sky leader following Chris Froome’s withdrawal.
Froome was forced to quit the Tour due to a wrist injury sustained in a spree of three crashes in 24 hours on stages four and five.
Porte managed to survive a wet and cobbled fifth stage and lies eight overall after safely negotiating another accident-strewn sixth stage on Thursday.
He is 1min 54sec behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali, but is confident he can regain parity when the race reaches its pivotal mountain stages.
He said: “I have been flying under the radar a bit, which is fine. I’m in good form, the team are right behind me, and we will take things day by day.
“Nibali has got a good lead and it’s up to the rest of us to take the race to him now. He and Jakob Fuglsang have a head start on the rest of us, but we will get these next couple of stages out of the way and then see where we are.
“I’m really looking forward to getting into the mountains. I still think the race will be decided in the Pyrenees in that last week. Astana have to defend now and we are definitely in for an interesting race.”
Porte is good friends with Froome and admitted seeing him exit the race was painful on both personal and professional levels.
“Obviously it’s not nice when the defending champion crashes out,” he added. “When I got back to my room last night Chris was there, and despite the circumstances, he was quite upbeat. He wished me all the best and I want to step up and take this opportunity now.”