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by Sophie Smith
February 19, 2016
Photography by Tim Bardsley-Smith, Cor Vos
Richie Porte won’t outright say he can win the Tour de France but he is sure of his own mental resolve should it come down to a dog fight between him and Chris Froome.
Porte has referred to Froome as the Tour rider of a generation and says the estimation, even now, as he prepares to try and defeat his former teammate at the race, is not a mental disadvantage.
“If it’s man-to-man it will be a kind of funny situation, it will just be like training how it normally was,” Porte told CyclingTips.
“In cycling there is no point making enemies, especially with somebody you are quite close to off the bike. We’re more than just ex-team-mates, we are good friends so there’s not much point trying to play mental games with any of them [at Sky].”
Porte has left his mates at Sky this season to join BMC and himself have a crack at the race he has supported Froome and Bradley Wiggins to a collective three titles at.
The camaraderie within a clique Porte was part of at the British outfit is obvious and he now has the task of establishing something like that at BMC before he and American mainstay Tejay van Garderen co-lead the team at the Tour.
The 31-year-old outside of racing has a psychiatrist, George Hyde, as a sounding board and in terms of sporting performance has faith in new English trainer, David Bailey as he works toward his Grand Tour target.
“When I’m in Tasmania I have a good mate called George Hyde, who is a psychiatrist, so I’ll go and train with him. We do a four-and-a-half hour loop and he’s good for me, sort of gives me a bit of a smack around if I need it. He’s always there as well with a text message so he’s one guy I have in my back pocket all year around,” Porte said.
Richie Porte on his way to winning stage 5 at the 2016 Tour Down Under
Porte’s potential to win a Grand Tour has been the subject of speculation since 2010 when he finished seventh overall and won the best young rider jersey on debut at the Giro d’Italia, effectively as a neo-pro at Saxo Bank.
The question as to whether he can claim a scalp this season has been refined to, by way of his team transfer, whether he can win the Tour de France.
“I’d be foolish to sit here and say I can, this and that,” Porte said.
“I’ve seen quite close-up what it takes to win the Tour being in three winning teams. I don’t know, you also need a bit of luck but I’ve never really had that much luck.
“Tejay more than me has got runs on the board but I’ve had sort of one good go at [a Grand Tour] with a team supporting me.
“Tejay and I at the moment will go in as joint leaders. I think Froomey is still the benchmark, especially with the time trials they’ve put in. [Nairo] Quintana as well has been around the mark and Alberto [Contador], it’ll be his last Grand Tour, supposedly, so I guess it’s like a flying under the radar sort of thing.
“I’ve been there so I know if you’re around that podium mark there’s added pressure as well but at this point in time it’s just getting there I guess, getting into great form and hitting the race.”
Frankly, few doubt Porte’s physical ability to pull off the job at hand but some do question his apt to handle the exemplified pressure that comes with it in and outside of the race. At the Tour of Oman, currently underway, he lost more than six minutes across two stages and declined to speak to the media perplexed as to why given BMC had countered the race was a pit-stop between training in Australia and his first major objective of the season, Paris-Nice.
“It’s not why I ride my bike, to be the media star,” Porte said.
“I still have Twitter but never really look at it. I minimise all that stuff because every Tom, Dickhead and Harry has got their opinion don’t they. It doesn’t really mean that much to me what people say.
“I’m at that point in my life now where I’ll probably do this for another six or seven years and then I don’t think I’ll be really involved in cycling anyhow so it’s water off a duck’s back.”
Porte isn’t a novice when it comes to leading a Grand Tour team. He was outward of his ambition to captain Sky at the Giro d’Italia last season, which he ultimately abandoned. His chances were scuppered following an illegal wheel change in stage 10 that he was docked two minutes for. The penalty would have been difficult for even the most experienced campaigner to overcome. Porte nevertheless continued but a later crash was the final straw and he left with his attention diverted to supporting Froome in France once more.
“People say rules are rules but it’s a pretty stupid rule and it’s left a bitter taste in the mouth,” Porte said. “But I think when I’m climbing at my best, and if I can get my time trialing back to where it was, who knows what could happen.
“I know how good a form I was in. I had [Sky head of athlete performance] Tim Kerrison behind me, who, you know, said I was climbing as well as anyone he’d seen. So you take from guys like that, who don’t give compliments away too often. I was in quite good shape and that’s the exciting thing now is trying to do that for July this year.”
Fabio Aru, Richie Porte and Alberto Contador on stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia 2015
Porte started pre-season training a month later than usual, at the end of November, following his wedding to partner, Gemma, a honeymoon in the Maldives and given his objectives in the Tour de France and the Rio Olympics road race fall later in the year.
Instead of early season race titles, he seems to have selected individual tests and has ticked off one. No one could match his trademark attack on the queen stage of Down Under, which saw him win atop Willunga and catapult to second overall. Similarly, he still hasn’t been discounted from a showing on Green Mountain in Oman.
It is a contrast to this time last season where he adopted a new lifestyle for his Giro bid that was so rigid you had to ask if the elastic would snap before the Italian spectacle.
“This time last year I was eating Greek yoghurt and berries for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said, unsure if he’ll assume the same method when the Tour and Olympics come closer.
“That’s the difference.”
After the Tour Down Under he had “two nights planned on the piss in Tassie” and returned to racing in Oman with a deep tan indicative of someone, who despite the good times, has been working hard. He’s also managed piriformis syndrome that flared at the end of last year.
Porte will follow a similar lead-up to the Tour as previous years, adding Liege-Bastogne-Liege to his programme with the Olympics in mind.
“That’s my test to go there and try and finish that,” he said.
The Olympics, for now, are secondary to the Tour de France and Porte barely hesitates when asked which is more important to him.
“It’s the Tour. Having said that, that’s the good thing about not being back into training [earlier] is that hopefully after the Tour I’ll still be motivated. It’s such a strange thing coming out of the Tour, you are just totally out of fuel,” he said.
“It would be nice to be up there in the first couple of weeks [of the Tour]. I think it’s always get to that first rest day and then it’s less stressful after that. Hopefully I can get to that and be good in the mountains. Then in the last week there are two time trials so it would be nice if it sort of comes down to that for me, and also Tejay.”