BMC Racing Team trainer Marco Pinotti believes that new signing Richie Porte can reach a new level this season, believing that his move from Team Sky can help him become a major Grand Tour contender.
The former professional worked with Porte at the Australian road nationals earlier this year and has formed an opinion about how he can step things up.
“For sure he is expected to improve as the year goes on,” he told CyclingTips. “From what I see, he has the physical abilities that are needed. I think he just needs to step up in terms of the strength in his mind, from a psychological point of view.”
Porte was a member of Team Sky for four years and was thrust into the role of team leader after Chris Froome crashed out of the 2014 Tour de France. However he became ill during the race. He got another chance in last year’s Giro d’Italia, but crashed and subsequently lost time. He eventually abandoned the event.
After helping Froome to a second Tour success, he moved to the BMC Racing Team searching for a fresh start.
Pinotti is one of those who will guide him, and is clear of one of the areas to focus on.
“He has been dominating one week races in a very good way, but a Grand Tour is something different because the length of pressure day to day to lead those races is different,” he explained. “It is not the same as a one week race.
“I think he needs a stronger mental path to do that. That, I think, is where he has to improve. Okay, he was the leader in the Giro, but he doesn’t have that much experience in leading a team in a Grand Tour. So there is room for improvement, for sure.”
Asked if he believed that the BMC Racing Team was the right place for him to progress, Pinotti expressed some hope that this was the case. “That is why we will give him a shot,” he said. “He has huge potential, physically, and we expect from him to fulfil our expectation.”
“A good balance between being relaxed and being focussed”
Pinotti raced as a professional between 1999 and 2013. In that time he won two stages in the Giro d’Italia, as the 2008 Tour of Ireland plus six national time trial titles.
After his retirement he took up a role working with the BMC Racing Team, with which he had spent the final two years of his pro career.
Once it signed Porte it meant the two would work together and Pinotti travelled to Australia to guide both him and team-mate Rohan Dennis at the national road and time trial championships.
He got an insight into Porte’s approach there, and liked what he saw.
“He is easy to work with. He is a nice guy overall,” he said. “He listens a lot. He always asks for an opinion. He was quite relaxed at the nationals. He is a good balance between being relaxed, and being focussed when it is the moment to be focussed.”
Dennis and Porte went on to show they were the two strongest riders in the nationals time trial, netting first and second in the race.
Time trialing is one of his strongest hands, and Pinotti is confident that on the right course he can impress.
“He is not a heavyweight rider. Okay, he is quite aero, but a flat course he is probably not the best one because of the absolutely power output. But his power to weight ratio is very good. So on a hilly course like the one in the nationals and the one that will be in the Tour [de France], he will be one of the strongest riders.”
That will be a big plus for his Tour campaign, although he will almost certainly have to share leadership with Tejay van Garderen in the race.
He’ll aim to be in the best shape possible at the start in Mont Saint-Michel on July 2, and will be encouraged by how well he went in Australia despite insisting his form wasn’t good prior to the Santos Tour Down Under.
“He probably wasn’t in the same condition as last year because of the amount of training that they have been doing, but he probably responds very well to a certain kind of training,” Pinotti noted.
“I know from experience that Australian riders are able to suffer a little bit more in their home race. I think this is part of his success. But riding as well as he did is a good boost for his morale. He won on Willunga and finished second overall, nine seconds back.
“He lost [the overall] basically because of bonuses. I think he came out from the race in a good way to start the season in his new team.”
Why Dennis didn’t match 2015 form in the Santos Tour Down Under
Another who showed strong form in Australia was Dennis, who beat Porte to win the national time trial championships at the start of the year.
He then went into the Santos Tour Down Under as joint leader, although things didn’t quite go to plan and he had to be satisfied with second and third on stages plus 23rd overall.
He, Pinotti and the rest of the team were likely surprised by his GC performance, although he did work for Porte once it became clear that the new signing had a better overall chance.
Pinotti believes there is a logical reason why Dennis was able to win the race last year but not this time around.
“He was very strong in the time trial,” he said, speaking about the nationals. “He was as strong as last year, probably, but he just paced it in a better way than last year.
“In the Tour Down Under, he had good results like second and third in the sprints in a hard race, but on Willunga he was not as strong as last year. It’s probably because last year he was peaking for the hour record and was doing more top-end work.
“But with him and Richie together, I think the team had a good race. With Rohan, basically last year when he came out of Down Under he did the hour record and then he needed a lot of time to recover.
“This year he is still building up for the beginning of the season. He should get stronger, and will keep building towards his big goal of the Rio Olympics time trial.”