Richie Porte’s road to the 2017 Tour de France: ‘It’s probably the most important year of my career’

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DENIA, Spain (CT) – He’s been named as BMC’s outright leader for the 2017 Tour de France but Richie Porte showed no obvious signs of pressure at the team media day in Denia, Spain, on Sunday.

The Tasmanian rider fielded questions from international media for 30 minutes and spent a good chunk of that time smiling and looking relaxed.

Porte is, he said, ready to face the responsibility of being a big Tour contender. However rather than having any trepidation about the scale of the task, he came across as excited.

He appears to be counting the days down to 2017, believing he has the physical attributes, the mental strength and the necessary experience to chase yellow next July.

As he made clear, his self-belief is where he needs it to be.

“In terms of its confidence … you know that the team is going to be backing me up in the Tour. That’s confidence in itself,” he said, smiling. “And as for motivation … It’s not hard to be motivated for 2017.

“The morale here in the team is incredible. The BMC Racing Team are ready to step it up next year. Having guys like Greg [Van Avermaet] on the team winning everything and anything … I think that’s infectious. It’s going to motivate us to step it up.”

Speaking prior to the media roundtable interviews, general manager Jim Ochowicz made clear that the whole team is thinking big for 2017. He said the team had four goals: to finish in the top three in the final WorldTour classification, to become world team time champions once again, to win key Spring Classics with Olympic champion Van Avermaet and, with Porte, to secure victory in the sport’s biggest event.

“We want to win the Tour de France,” he said. “We have a strong team to back that up. We did it in 2011 with Cadel Evans, we can do it again in 2017.”

Ochowicz’s confidence stems in part from Porte’s performance during the 2016 event. That edition was his first on the BMC Racing Team and saw him able to shrug off the previous helper role he had played with Chris Froome’s Sky squad.

And while he lost time early on at the 2016 Tour, conceding one minute 45 seconds due to a stage-two puncture, he was one of the strongest and most consistent riders in the race. He equalled Froome on several occasions in the mountains and ultimately finished just one minute and 12 seconds off second place overall.

Had he not punctured, it’s very possible he would have been runner-up in Paris.

“I think I showed that despite having bad luck along the way, I was still up there in contention. The team is obviously putting a lot of faith in me so of course to see myself [winning] … it is possible.”

Read on for some highlights of Porte’s pre-season interview from the BMC Racing Team training camp.

How does it feel to come back to the same camp – same time, same place?

Richie Porte: For me it feels good to be back this year. I’m so comfortable in this team. I’m quite enjoying it being back. I was in Australia for close to three weeks before, so had a bit of sun and the weather is not so bad here. It’s good to be back with the team.

You have spent now one year at BMC after four years with Sky. Would you say it is very different, the two teams, and maybe also the media pressure you get?

I must say now I feel 100% like this is my team now. I’m happy here. I must admit, of course it’s hard to change teams. But I think with the way this season has gone, it was the right decision to change things. I’m happy here, and I’m just looking forward to getting into 2017.

I think for me it’s probably the most important year of my career. So I’m really looking forward to just getting stuck into it.

Why do you say it is so important?

I’d say because obviously I changed teams to have more opportunity in the Tour de France and I think 2017 is my opportunity.

This is obviously something you were striving for when you started racing, that someday you want to be the guy in the Tour and here it is.

Exactly. I have done many Tours in the service of other guys. The Tour is the ultimate race so to be here and have an opportunity in the Tour de France is a massive occasion for me.

What did you take out of last year’s Tour? I know you had that bad luck with the puncture, but overall you must have had good feeling coming out of the Tour last year …

Yes, of course it gives me confidence. I wasn’t so far off the podium with some bad luck along the way. I know the Tour is so hard. Every day you’ve got to expect the unexpected. People queried my ability to ride three weeks, but you know it’s a little bit different when you’re not the leader of the team.

Of course your job was to help someone else and sacrifice for them. So to go into 2017 as the leader is a huge occasion for me. It’s a massive opportunity.

Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) leads former teammate Chris Froome (Sky) on stage 17 of the 2016 Tour de France
Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) leads former teammate Chris Froome (Sky) on stage 17 of the 2016 Tour de France.

It was said that you were the best climber in the Tour de France along with Froome. Do you agree with that?

Eh … I mean of course there were times when I attacked when the other guys were on the limit. Other than a motorbike getting in the way of things, I think I was climbing as well as most of the other contenders.

There’s not that many hilltop finishes next season, but you still have to be climbing well. There is no secret that I’m a climber, so there’s confidence being up there with those guys when the proverbial hit the fan.

What would it mean to you to be a Tour winner?

I mean that’s the ultimate, I guess, having grown up watching the Tour de France. I know it’s a huge opportunity, but I think I’m ready to lead a team. I’ve sacrificed enough. I’m not getting lost. I know that it’s going to be a massive challenge but, physically and mentally, I’m ready to lead the team.

Nicolas Roche arrived to the team this year. Did you ask for him?

Of course. We’re good friends off the bike and to have him … I mean he’s one of the most experienced pros out there and he is a good road captain. So I think that’s a great guy to have in the team. I think it’s nice to have experienced guys like that who can do the thinking for you on the road.

It’s not just directions from the car. Nico knows how to read the race. You don’t buy experience like that. He’s just so cool and calm in these situations, it’s awesome to have.

Is he the only guy you asked for?

Obviously we had guys like Damiano Caruso step up. Obviously riding against BMC for so many years, [we see] guys like Micky Schar who is probably the best in the business. I think we’re going to have an awesome team.

Now you are the sole leader in the Tour de France, would you ask the team to ride in a different way, a less conservative way during the race?

I’m not really sure. I mean obviously you got to take that decision on the road but I think there’s times if you’ve got a team totally dedicated to you that you can do that. Like, use Damiano further into the climbs … It’s kind of [an] exciting option to have.

Do you think the Tour will change the way it is raced with the new modern parcours, going for all the medium mountain terrain rather than all the high mountains?

Of course. The road is what ultimately decides everything anyhow. I mean, it’s easy probably to sit here and wonder how it’s going to work out. But, at the end of the day, it’s a race, isn’t it? Somebody always does something unpredictable each day in the Tour anyhow, so …

I don’t think it’s going to be a negative Tour. There are enough teams that want to rip the race apart that it’s still going to be exciting to watch. And it’s still going to be such a hard race that … It’s going to be hard, isn’t it?

How are you planning on approaching the Tour de France? Which races would you like to ride [as part of the buildup]?

I don’t know my exact race program at the moment but I think Paris-Nice will be for sure my first race in Europe next year. Romandie — I’d like to do well there as well. Obviously you know with Tag coming along [as sponsor] and obviously BMC being a Swiss team, I’m kind of motivated to go there and do well.

But I don’t think it’s going to change much from normal, like the Dauphine or maybe Pais Basque [Tour of the Basque Country]. I think it’s a pretty good race program and a lot of time in between at home, which is important for me as well.

[ed. Porte is likely to start his 2017 season at the Australian Road Nationals in January, before heading to the Santos Tour Down Under to vie for overall victory.]

BMC has won the Tour de France before. How does that help you in your personal aim of winning the Tour?

I mean, it’s still the same structure of the team that went and won the Tour. But to be honest, I think on paper we’re probably going to have a stronger support team than what they did there.

I think being an Australian, it’s an added [bonus] to have Cadel. He’s a big inspiration for me. 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 like on WhatsApp or even in the room before the race started is a huge mental tower to lean on, I think.

Does he help you in any way in terms of advice or training tips?

Advice for sure. Cadel is a hard cookie. He always was one of the hardest riders out there. He does give you the occasional little factor of how to handle yourself in situations which arise.

The way he won his Tour was never giving up even when the cards were stacked against him. He just kept going …

Yeah, it’s that whole Aussie battler thing. He had his challenges in that time. I remember riding that Tour and seeing him stopped on the side of the road, cool as a cucumber, having a bike change. I don’t think anybody has won the Tour with a straightforward race. There is always something that the road throws up at you.

To be able to talk to Cadel and bounce situations off him … to have a guy that’s won the Tour de France in your corner, it’s incredible.

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When the Tour comes you will be 32. Do you have the feeling it’s now or never?

That’s it. If I catch myself in the right light in the mirror, I’ve got grey hairs springing up everywhere. The next couple of years are my peak as an endurance athlete.

I really do need to, you know, have a massive next few years. You know, I’m ready for that.

Do you see yourself like Alejandro [Valverde], riding until you are 37, 38?

I mean it’s one thing to be riding until you are that old, but to be challenging … Somebody like Valverde or Rodriguez — respect to those guys. To be motivated when you are that age is another thing. We will cross that bridge when it comes.

I turned professional quite old, 24 or 25, so I still have the motivation every morning to get up. I still enjoy riding my bike.

You say you only have a few years to win the Tour at 32. But also you never stepped on the podium of the Tour de France. So how do you find a balance in that? Will you ride for the podium because it never happened to you, or will you ride for the win because it is one of your last chances?

[Pauses] You’ve got to start somewhere, don’t you? I think for me, if I had a bit more luck this year then I think I would have gone close in the Tour. As disappointing as the Tour was this season, it gives me massive inspiration to be good. To have a big off-season now.

I can’t really change the bad luck. For sure the podium in the Tour de France would be massive. But to win it is the ultimate goal.

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