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By Julien Pretot
NICE, France, March 10 (Reuters) - Team Sky laid down an early marker when domestique Richie Porte became the first Australian to win the Paris-Nice week long race in trademark fashion on Sunday.
The British outfit, who dominated 2012 with Bradley Wiggins claiming the Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine titles on his way to becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France, were their usual controlling force on the French roads.
Porte, one of Wiggins's lieutenants during last year's Tour, took full advantage of his only moment of freedom in the season to snatch his biggest victory.
The Australian, who joined Team Sky last year, ended the suspense on Friday when he won the queen stage finishing at the top of the Montagne de Lure after his team mates set the early tempo at the bottom of the climb.
The stage win echoed that of Briton Chris Froome on Saturday at Tirreno-Adriatico, where the Tour runner-up smashed the field with an awe-inspiring win at the Prato di Tivo after being perfectly set up by team mates Sergio Henao, Dario Cataldo and Rigoberto Uran.
In the process, Froome, who took the overall lead on Sunday, beat Spaniards Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez as well as Australian Cadel Evans and Italian Vincenzo Nibali.
"There is some great momentum behind the team at the moment with the guys doing so well at Paris-Nice," said Froome.
"There is a great buzz around the team and we want to try and carry that along."
Porte, who may become one of Sky's team leaders next season on the Giro d'Italia, sealed his win on Sunday when he won in the final time trial, a 9.6-km uphill dash from Nice to the Col d'Eze.
He clocked 19 minutes 16 seconds, four seconds outside Wiggins's winning time from last year.
American Andre Talansky took second place overall, 55 seconds behind, with Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud taking third place one minute 21 seconds of the pace.
"I'm still doing my apprenticeship and learning off Brad and Chris and I don't expect to ride for general classification at the Tour - maybe next year at the Giro," the 28-year-old Porte told reporters..
"I'm in a good place at the moment and don't really want to change anything. Whatever happens we're going to have a hell of a team for the Tour de France." (Editing by Ed Osmond)