Speaking at the team training camp in Denia, Spain, this week, BMC Racing Team President Jim Ochowicz has talked up the chances of Richie Porte for the 2017 Tour de France.
Porte was one of the strongest riders in the 2016 edition of the race, although his eventual finishing position of fifth overall was misleading due to time lost because of a puncture on day two. He lost one minute 45 seconds in that mishap; weeks later in Paris, he was just one minute and 12 seconds off second place overall.
Porte was both relaxed and confident about team leadership for the Tour this week, as evident in this interview.
Ochowicz too was focussed on the goal and made clear he has faith in the Australian.
“Our objective is to win the Tour with Richie,” he told CyclingTips.
“How he rode in this year’s race was a demonstration of his willpower and his ability to be able to deal with a bit of catastrophic circumstances out of his control.”
It is that composure under pressure that gives Ochowicz optimism about how 2017 could go.
“Bike racing is different…crashes happen, flat tires are always part of our game. We could see him managing those and not losing confidence in himself, not losing confidence in the team. Carrying on, making time back, coming back, coming back, moving up, moving up was all par for the course for him in the 2016 Tour.
“There were a couple of other incidents which we all saw live on TV with Froome and Mollema which cost all three of them a bit of chaos and time, but he managed all that well.
“So to me that is a leader. That is somebody who is ready to take on a challenge like the one we are going to take on next July again. We are very confident in him and very confident in the team.”
The team won the Tour de France in 2011 with Cadel Evans and so has already brought an Australian to Paris in yellow. Porte said he had faith in the lineup and suggested it is possibly stronger than the squad which backed up Evans five years ago.
He also pointed out that he had Evans in his corner, and that this was significant tactically and also psychologically.
“Being an Australian, it’s an added [bonus] to have Cadel. He’s a big inspiration for me,” he stated. “One of the reasons I’m riding a bike is the Cadel Evans factor. I watched him as a kid growing up.
“So then to have Cadel this year in the Tour de France on WhatsApp or even in the room before the race started is a huge mental tower to lean on.”
Evans was able to gather the team around him prior to winning the Tour, with he, Ochowicz and others convincing his backup riders that victory was possible.
Ochowicz said that Porte’s strong showing during the 2016 race plus the growing belief that he should be a major contender helps to galvanise the team.
“It gets everybody focussed,” he stated. “There is a lot of bike racing between now and then, but you still have to have that primary focus in the back of your mind.
“A lot of what we are doing from now until then is focussed on that Tour. It means the races that we select for certain riders, the style of racing we do during that time and also the equipment selections, the recon that we do, and of course exploration are all part of preparing properly for the Tour de France.
“We will all take those seriously as we move forward.”
Speaking at the media day, the American named four big goals for the team in 2017. Apart from the aim of winning the Tour de France, he said that BMC Racing will try to take spring Classics via Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet, to finish in the top three in the UCI WorldTour classification and to retake the world team time trial championship.
“We have a new logo – ‘don’t crack under pressure,’” he said. “What it means is we can handle it. We will have problems, but we can come back.”
That motto could well extend to Van Avermaet, who recently sustained an ankle fracture in a mountainbike crash and who appeared at the media day using crutches. While his training has clearly been affected, he still believes he can be ready in time for the Classics.
As he does with Porte, Ochowicz has a lot of faith in the Belgian.
“Anything is possible for Greg,” he said. “He demonstrated in 2016 that he can go one to one with anyone in the peloton, in his circle, and that he can win or place on a regular basis.
“The consistency that he has is extraordinary. He can find form fast, he can hold form for a long time and he is learning more about himself and really how to race.”