Over the weekend the BMC Racing Team announced that Richie Porte’s 2016 season was over. The Australian’s crash in the Rio Olympics road race had come late enough in the year that racing again in 2016 didn’t make much sense. But as Daniel Ostanek reports, the early finish to Porte’s year means the 31-year-old will likely be in ominous form come early 2017.
As the Tour of Britain entered its final stages over the weekend, one of BMC’s Australian stars — the promising Rohan Dennis — got busy showcasing his ability as an all-rounder. Friday afternoon saw the 26-year-old finish in third place on the summit finish of Haytor, in south-west England – a result he followed up with second in the Bristol time trial the next day, and a stage win on the same circuit later the same afternoon.
Watching his compatriot put in one of his best performances of the season was another of the team’s Australians, Richie Porte. He was in Britain with his wife, ex-Sky operations co-ordinator Gemma Barrett, continuing his rehabilitation from the fractured shoulder-blade suffered as a result of his crash in last month’s Olympic Games road race.
CyclingTips caught up with Porte as he spent some time at the BMC team bus, greeting his teammates as they rode in from their time trial efforts.
“To be honest it’s unlikely now that I’ll come back,” Porte, 31, said about his chances of returning to racing in 2016. “It’s so late in the season, plus I haven’t ridden my bike in five weeks – I haven’t even been on the stationary bike yet.”
“I’m obviously going to start training a bit earlier than last year – I can hit the ground running in the Tour Down Under,” he added.
It’s a plan that has been worked through with BMC doctor Max Testa, who said that: “Richie will be back on the bike next week. The plan is to fully recover from his injury and get back to training at a normal level in the last few weeks of the season.”
While Porte’s crash in the Rio road race was something he didn’t see coming — the crash was unavoidable after another rider hit the deck in front of him — he did note beforehand the potential dangers of the race route.
“Yeah, I mean it did [strike me as dangerous]. Speaking with [Australian coach] Bradley McGee beforehand we knew it was going to be a little bit of a mess,” Porte said. “Obviously it was totally disappointing to crash like that.”
“I’m a bit – I don’t know … Do we need descents like that in races?” Porte said, with more than a hint of exasperation in his voice. “I’m not so sure. Y’know — it was a ‘spectacle’, but there comes a point I think when things get a little bit dangerous.”
Porte’s season as a whole — a season in which he finished on the podium at the Tour Down Under and Paris-Nice before taking fifth at the Tour de France — was cause for more positive reflection.
“I think it was a good season. I mean, I was always in the condition I needed to be in,” Porte said as he greeted a surprised Amaël Moinard, who was pipped to the win on stage five by Jack Bauer of Cannondale-Drapac.
“I think – I’m not making excuses – that I had quite a lot of bad luck along the way, but I think of that as a motivating factor for next year,” he continued. “This year was a good season but I didn’t really win that many races [Porte’s solitary 2016 win was the Willunga Hill stage of the Tour Down Under] so that’s definitely something I’d like to do more of next year.”
The 2016 season was Porte’s first with BMC, and some onlookers foresaw problems as it was announced that he and Tejay Van Garderen would share GC leadership roles going forward.
Porte may not have had the best of luck this season but he has arguably outperformed Van Garderen. Could things have been even better with a sole leadership role though?
“I think it went quite well – there was nothing that happened on the road that was an issue,” Porte said. “Tejay and I get along well. I’m not sure what the tactic will be for next year because I haven’t yet sat down and talked about the program. Tejay has obviously had a long season too so he’s going to be motivated for next year as well.”
While Porte’s precise program for 2017 has yet to be worked out, it will be broadly similar to the races he did this year: Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya and the Critérium du Dauphiné – building up to another run at the Tour de France.
“I think I’ll be aiming for those races again,” said Porte. “Of course with the Tour you see how Froomey [Team Sky’s Chris Froome] did this year – he didn’t start until late, and if you have a good Tour then yeah that’s a good season for anybody.”
Assisting Porte in his quest to overcome his good friend and ex-teammate Froome will be another good friend and ex-teammate, Nicolas Roche. BMC announced the signing of the Irishman on August 1, and Porte is looking forward to being joined once again by Roche.
“Yeah, that’s [Roche joining] awesome. Obviously the signings for next year haven’t been confirmed yet but just to have a guy like Nico is just great you know,” he said. “One of the most loyal mates as well. So I’m looking forward to that next year.”
While his 2016 season ended up not quite going to plan, Porte seemed in good spirits as he enjoyed the success of his teammates in Bristol. His thoughts were firmly fixed on the future – a future that should see even more success for the Tasmanian if a little more luck comes his way.
With what looks to be a stronger-than-ever team behind him, plus the additional motivation of righting 2016’s wrongs, Porte will certainly be one to watch next season.