Richie Porte Q&A: On recovery, returning to racing, and the Mont du Chat descent

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When it emerged that Richie Porte (BMC) had only broken his hip and collarbone in his spectacular stage 9 crash at this year’s Tour de France, the consensus was that he’d been extremely lucky. The images of the crash were horrifying, and when Porte was loaded into an ambulance on a stretcher, wearing a neck brace, it seemed as if crashing out of the Tour was the least of his worries.

But five days later, Porte is back home in Monaco and in surprisingly good spirits. In a joint phone interview with Cyclingnews, CyclingTips caught up with Porte to find out what he’s expecting from his recovery, when he’ll be back racing, and what he thought of including the now infamous Mont du Chat in this year’s Tour.

The following is transcript of the conversation that followed, lightly edited for fluency.

CyclingTips: How are you feeling and how have the last few days been?

Richie Porte: It’s been a long five days. [I was] in hospital and then transferred back to Monaco and then finally yesterday I was able to come home. Now I’ve got a wheelchair to get around — it’s kind of a far cry [from] where I was this time last week.

It’s quite disappointing that things have turned out this way. At the same time, after seeing the footage of the crash, I really do feel quite lucky that I came away with the injuries that I have.

What does a transfer from Chambery to Monaco look like when you’ve got a broken pelvis and broken collarbone?

It was super long. I had to do it in an ambulance actually. We left at 9, we got in at 4. It was lucky that the ambulance drivers were cycling fans and they stopped on the way and got me a Toblerone which is quite nice. But it was painful. If it wasn’t the hip giving me grief it was the collarbone which is probably the more painful thing.

I’ve definitely had nicer transfers, put it that way.

How long are you likely to be in a wheelchair?

Basically I’ve been told it’s going to be three weeks before I can really put pressure on my leg the problem being that I can’t use crutches because my collarbone is also broken. So it’s a little bit of a nightmare. Plus I lost quite a lot of skin off my back and everywhere so it’s not the most pleasant recovery period.

I just don’t know when I’m back on the bike. It’s already been long days of not doing much other than bed, wheelchair and sitting on the couch.

In terms of your mobility are you able to move yourself around, or are you relying on help from your wife Gemma or someone else to get around?

Yeah obviously I’m quite heavily reliant on Gemma. I mean, at the best of times I’m probably too reliant on Gemma anyway but especially now there’s not there’s not a hell of a lot I can do for myself. But I’m lucky that she’s a trooper and she’s happy to help me.

Are you feeling impatient to get back on the bike or are you able to accept that you have to take time now to let the recovery run its course?

Yeah, of course you’re a bit impatient because that’s what you do all day every day and it’s not great to be sat inside all cooped up. But I guess if you listen to the advice from the doctors … they’ll all give you a different prognosis and how long it’s going to take but the one thing they all tell you is that the longer I delay getting on the bike the better.

It has to have actually healed up properly or otherwise I’m going to have long-term problems with my hip especially. If I hadn’t have done my hip they would have operated on my collarbone but because I can’t ride my bike anyhow they were able to let it heal naturally which is a good thing, to not have to do surgery.

You were saying before that it would be three weeks before you can put weight on your hip. Have the doctors given you an idea of how long you should wait before riding? Is it once those three weeks are up, or do you have to wait longer to get on the bike?

It will be at least two weeks after that initial three-week period before I’m back out on the road. That’s a fair bit of the season over and done with to be honest. I think if I come back maybe I can go and ride the Tour of Britain or the Canadian races just to help the team because I think the amount of form that I’m going to lose … this last part of this season’s really just a write-off.

Do you think you’ll race again this season?

I’d like to do the Tour of Britain maybe. I mean I’ve done that race once and I really loved the race. It’s one of the best-organised races on the calendar but I think any race I do it’s probably unfair to say I’ll be racing. I’ll probably be turning up to … just more making the numbers up and laying the foundation for next season.

Maybe Japan Cup or something like that … maybe I can be in good form once everyone else has had their off-season I might be in better form for something like that.

Can you draw on the experience of last year as a bit of a blueprint in terms of what happened at the Olympics?

Yeah 100%. That kind of happened a month later but I think what we did this year really worked well. Obviously I started riding my bike last year quite early [after the injury], all things considered, and went back to Tasmania and did a good bit of off-season and then back to Europe around Christmas and training camp. And then I was still able to win Tour Down Under.

You get paid to race your bike and it’s disappointing not to be able to do that for the team but at the end of the day I think if we have to … replicate what we did this year then I do think I can have a great season next year.

Did you happen to see yesterday’s stage, stage 12, at all?

Yeah I did actually. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not to watch because I think mentally sitting there watching and kind of looking forward to doing that stage … we did the recon and to see how it all planned out it was a little bit annoying to not be there in the race. But you know it was great for me to see Damiano Caruso really do a great ride for BMC.

I know it’s kind of what-if at this stage but looking at the condition that you had coming into the Tour and that you had in the first week or so, how far do you think you could have gotten in terms of GC?

To be honest with you I would have been disappointed to not be on the podium in Paris. Obviously this year wasn’t the greatest Tour route for me but I still think that the last time trial and the climbing stages that I missed … I really think I could have been up there. Obviously yesterday [Romain] Bardet was brilliant but I was climbing with those guys before this all happened.

Do you think you can heal up 100%? Do you think you can come back stronger for next season?

I really think I can. I’ve done it before. Maybe sitting and watching the race mentally is a bit hard but then it does sort of motivate me more for next year and I think even this year it wasn’t a fantastic Tour route on paper. It’s probably one of the strangest Tour routes they’ve had in recent years. Hopefully next year there’s less of these long sprint stages which don’t really achieve a hell of a lot in my opinion. You’re always going to get the same winner.

And then also, for me growing up watching the Tour de France, the mountain stages were about … finishing at the top of the climb, guys attack harder on the climb [rather] than just to have the climb nullified by a descent. People say ‘Yeah, it’s easy for him to say that, he crashed in the descent’ but the thing is I think it just works better to have just the traditional time trials, the traditional hill-top finishes ..

The Tour always has those long transfer stages but this year they obviously really went looking for long stages, open fields where they were looking for crosswinds. They didn’t get that and the climbs that we did were hard but then neutralised by a descent to the finish. Hopefully next year’s Tour is a little bit better-suited to me.

My new set of wheels aren't quite as cool as my @ride_bmc but it's nice to finally be home.

A post shared by Richie (@richie_porte) on

After that Mont du Chat stage Froome came out and was obviously very upset by the images he saw of you crashing, but he also praised you for slowing things down after he had his mechanical. What contact have you had with him, if any, since you’ve come home?

Obviously he sent me a few well-wishes along the way. We are good friends off the bike. But I think what happened there on the Mont du Chat — everyone saw Froomey’s hand go up so I don’t think anyone can say they didn’t see that. And when those two guys jumped away — I wouldn’t say I was the white knight but … I dunno, I think it’s maybe not in the spirit of the sport to see someone have a mechanical and then straight away attack. And then they didn’t really attack after he made it back. I think it sort of speaks for itself a little bit.

After your crash there was a fair bit of discussion about the Mont du Chat descent and whether it had a place in the race. You guys saw it a bunch of times in recon and in the Dauphine. Did you have any concerns about its inclusion in the Tour, in terms of rider safety?

Everyone that I spoke to in the peloton that week or on that day … not everybody obviously — a lot of guys were questioning the need for that descent. Obviously we did it in the Dauphine and Froomey went super-quick down there. I mean, I’m not a risk-taker but I still got down there to the bottom with Froomey without taking any risks and it was the same on Sunday.

I mean, I was fourth rider. I wasn’t going any slower than the guys in front of me or any quicker than the guys behind me. What happened sort of happened on the corner before when I touched my brakes and I dunno if there was a bit of debris on the road but Dan Martin said to me the same thing, that his tyre also locked up when he braked. But then that was it, I was offline when I got to that corner and then I had to brake and the next thing I was on that grass verge unfortunately.

And to me that is probably the thing I feel most guilty about is that I took Dan Martin down with me and I feel terrible for that. I think it’s probably going to cost him a podium so that really hurts.

But if my bike goes falling down the mountainside and I go into a rock face, is that safe? I don’t know. I heard the race director said a few things but it’s like, yeah, a race is a race but would they send their son or their daughter down a descent like that and feel happy? I’m not sure.

For me I just think that the spectacle should be the finish on the top of the mountain, not having to take unnecessary risks or an unnecessary danger to get to the bottom of a stage which in the end turned out to be a select few GC guys sprinting. I mean is that the greatest image for cycling? I don’t really know.

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