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It’s been nearly a decade since an Australian started the Tour de France as the top favourite. But ahead of the 2017 edition, which begins this Saturday in the Germany city of Düsseldorf, it is the Tasmanian Richie Porte (BMC) that many regard as the man to beat.
Porte was fifth overall in last year’s Tour — easily his best result in the race — and were it not for an untimely puncture on stage 2, he would almost certainly have finished on the podium.
Porte has had an impressive season so far, winning the Santos Tour Down Under, a summit finish at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and then a stage of the Criterium du Dauphine on his way to a narrow second place overall.
Porte was the best climber at the Dauphine and moved into the overall lead with second on stage 6. He wore the leader’s jersey through to the final day, where he was ambushed in the mountains and slipped to second after a storming ride from Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang.
With Porte now back at his European base in Monaco, CyclingTips caught up with the 32-year-old to get his take on how the Dauphine unfolded and what might be in store for the Tour de France. The Q&A below is a transcript of that conversation, lightly edited for fluency.
CyclingTips: What’s the main emotion at the moment as the Tour approaches? Is it one of nerves, excitement, or something else?
Richie Porte: I’d say it’s a bit of everything to be honest. It’s been a good season so far but now’s the biggest goal. I guess the time after the Dauphine, because it’s such a hard race, it’s just about trying to recover and get ready for the Tour. But you still have to go out and hit the button and do some kind of efforts as well.
I’ve been able to stay at home, other than I went down to Marseille and had a look at the time trial course. But other than that it’s just been good to be home and train on the roads that I know.
You’ve obviously had a pretty good year so far, winning the Tour Down Under and Tour de Romandie and second at the Dauphine …
To be honest with you, I’m still bitterly disappointed there with how things happened [at the Dauphine]. You don’t expect any favours from guys [but] I was isolated early and it was pretty relentless there, the attacks.
You were saying after the race that you thought other teams sacrificed their chances of winning the race to stop you from doing so. What did that look like out on the road?
At the end of the day that’s how they choose to race, they’re welcome to do that. But yeah, when my teammates were almost back and you see guys that have won Grand Tours and stuff getting on the front and driving it for a kilometre just to make sure I was still isolated? That kind of blew their chances up as well by doing that.
Of course you kind of come off sounding like a bit of a sore loser for that but at the end of the day I was kind of happy that I kept my nerve and kept on fighting on until the finish. But you know it would have been nice to have another teammate to help me on the flat [ed. the valley road between the last two climbs on stage 8, where Porte was forced to chase his GC rivals, more or less on his own.]
Are you taking the same team to the Tour as the Dauphine?
No I’d say it’s a stronger team. So Damiano Caruso and Micky Schär and Greg Van Avermaet, Stefan Küng from [the Tour de] Suisse [team] — that’s some strong guys in there but then it’s [Amaël] Moinard, [Nicholas] Roche, [Danilo] Wyss and a couple of the other guys who were at Dauphine who stay on and do the Tour as well.
So you’re confident that you’ll have a strong team around you and that those guys will help you out on those hard stages?
I think so, but the other thing is that the Tour’s different. Teams ride for stages, they ride for 10th on GC kind of thing. It’s a bit more of a defensive situation. In the Dauphine though it was like all the favourites were kind of … you know, nobody really had teammates other than Astana.
Putting aside your disappointment about finishing second at the Dauphine, do you come out of that race feeling confident? Because you were the best climber there and stage 8, where you were on your own and had to battle your way back, was quite incredible to watch. Do you take confidence from that effort?
100 percent. It was nice to beat the guys who went out of their way to … I guess they’re racing to win but I think they were also racing to see me not win. So to take a bit of a mental victory on them it’s nice. To also show that I was time-trialling well that was a nice one as well.
What have you made of Chris Froome’s form lately? He hasn’t seemed at his best this season so far but you’d have to expect he’ll lift a level for the Tour?
Exactly. I mean he’s won it three times so he knows how to do it. Yeah he hasn’t been as dominant as in past years. But I think it was always his plan to be good for the Tour and the Vuelta [a España]. So I don’t think you can read too much into it. [But] I also don’t think [Sky’s] going to take as strong a team to the Tour this year as they had last year …
I know you try not to pay too much attention to the media and what people are saying about you but you probably saw that Froome was saying you’re the favourite for the Tour. Do you pay attention to that sort of thing? And does that change anything for you?
Not really. I mean, that’s his mental game as well.
Even though he’s a good mate you reckon it’s still a mental game?
Yeah. He showed in the Dauphine that there’s not going to be any favours there. We are good friends off the bike but I don’t expect he’s going to give me anything at the Tour.
There’s still other guys that … Quintana, we’ll see how he’s come out of the Giro [d’Italia]. And then there’s Astana. Jakob [Fuglsang]’s obviously flying and Aru is going really well too. And Contador — I mean, it could be his last Tour. So there’s so many guys — you can’t watch just one guy. There’s so many guys up there.
You were saying before that you went and checked out the stage 20 time trial course in Marseille. What do you think of it? It looks like one that you should suit you with that climb in the middle?
Yeah. It’s a super fast time trial. It’s not one that people are going to lose a hell of a lot of time on. But yeah it’s got a bit of a climb there up to Notre Dame and a bit of a tricky descent down, but I don’t know — I don’t see this being a place where you can take a hell of a lot of time on GC.
What stages do you think will be decisive for the overall?
I think stage 5, the finish at La Planche des Belle Filles — that’s the first big form test. Normally the guys there who are strong are strong in the finish as well. Froomey won it, Nibali won it and both were up there on GC.
The stage at the Peyragudes [stage 12] there in the Pyrenees: that’s hard, but then the last few stages in the Alps as well are tricky. They’re not easy stages but then you put in there altitude as well which makes it a little bit more difficult.
So for you to win the Tour, what do you think needs to happen? What will you have to do and what will you have to avoid over the three weeks?
I think I need to avoid the bad luck I had last year. I’ve done everything in my control to get to the startline in as good a condition as possible. So I think I’m just excited more than anything.
I don’t really look into that [what needs to happen and what to avoid]. With cycling there’s so many variables aren’t there, that it just doesn’t really … there’s not much point in losing sleep over what can and can’t happen.