Richie Porte Q&A: On fatherhood, Tour de Suisse, Le Tour, and BMC’s future

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It’s been a big few weeks for Richie Porte (BMC). His wife Gemma recently gave birth to the couple’s first child — a boy, Luca — and this past weekend the Tasmanian took what he has described as the biggest win of his career: the Tour de Suisse.

Porte’s BMC team smashed the stage 1 team time trial, the 33-year-old moved into yellow on stage 5, and then he defended his lead with some strong climbing in the three days that followed. Porte sealed the deal by putting time into most of his GC rivals in the final stage ITT, winning the overall by more than a minute.

Now back home in Monaco, Porte spoke to CyclingTips about the significance of winning Suisse, fatherhood, his view on the Chris Froome saga, BMC’s uncertain future, and what he’s expecting at the Tour de France. The interview below has been lightly edited for fluency.

CyclingTips: Congrats on becoming a father for the first time! Have you been able to spend much time at home with Gemma since the baby arrived?

Richie Porte: I only had one night. He arrived on a Saturday — Gemma stayed in hospital till the Tuesday so then I got one night and then we went to Suisse the day after. I guess that’s good though. It’s better than nothing and at one point it looked like they were going to try and send me to that Velon race [ed. Hammer Limburg]

What’s fatherhood been like for you so far?

It’s mad. It’s crazy. When Gemma went into labor it was like a 13-hour thing and she was in so much pain. She ended up having an epidural but not for like three and a half hours after it first started. So it was pretty full-on to watch that. But it’s pretty cool. You know what they say: it’s the best moment. I wouldn’t say it was the best moment but then the day after when I went to the hospital and Gemma jumped in the shower and I had him in my arms … that was when you’re like ‘Right, this is cool. This is now responsibilities.’ But it’s awesome, it’s really cool.

Does having him make being away from home that little bit harder?

It was the first time for sure. Basically we got home on the Tuesday and we had one day at home and then I’m leaving and I felt pretty bad to be honest, just leaving Gemma in the lurch. But that’s it — I think I’m lucky to have a wife who understands the job. I still have to go out and train a lot.

I’ve been leaving earlier so I can get more time at home, which I quite enjoy doing anyway because that’s what you do in Australia isn’t it? You ride at 6 or 7 which … a lot of the professional guys, if you ever mention that, they think you’re stupid. But I kind of like that. It’s the nicest time of the day, there’s not so much traffic, it’s not so hot yet. And then you get home and you’ve got the rest of the day.

How significant is winning Tour de Suisse to you, especially with the Tour just around the corner?

I’m not going to lie: I know I won it because we did a super team time trial. I did my fair share of work in that as well so you can only do what you can do. I would have loved to have won a stage but I probably would have won the sixth stage if the break hadn’t have stayed out. But yeah, I think to win Tour de Suisse on a Swiss-backed team — our sponsors are Swiss — and obviously with the passing of Andy Rihs who was perhaps the greatest sponsor of cycling of any individual, it means a lot because that was his favourite race.

And then the timing going into the Tour: to win a race like that when you know you’re not on your top form, it’s reassuring. It’s no secret: the first nine days of the Tour de France this year … I mean the Tour’s always stressful isn’t it, the first week, but the first nine days: there’s a team time trial, stage 5 finishes in Finistère which … we did that race [ed. the Tour du Finistère in April] and that’s a tricky finish. And then there’s the cobbled stage and then there’s the crosswind stages to start with as well …

So I think if we can get me through those nine days then we are up for it come the mountains.

You mentioned Andy Rihs. What impact did his passing have on you and the team?

I must say, I never really got to know him so well because when I came onto the team was kind of the time that he got sick. But I saw a bit of him in 2016, not so much the last two years. I used to see him around at races and he was always a friendly guy. Everyone knew who he was and he had like a certain aura about him. It’s just a sad day for cycling.

Andy Rihs with Australia’s only Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans. Rihs died on April 18, 2018 after a long battle with illness.

At this point in time we don’t know if the team continues and that would be a shame because that was Andy’s passion or hobby really, the team. I think some of the cycling journalists need to be careful with some of the stuff that they write … a lot of baseless rumours because the way that the sport’s going now with sponsorship and such, who would want to be involved in a sport where it’s got such a murky past? But then some of these sensationalised stories are not helping anyone in the search for sponsors.

I think that  a good thing with guys like Andy was that they saw through the crap – even though he got burnt with Phonak as well – he was willing to give it another chance …  I think cycling needs more Andy Rihs’ to make it a brighter future for the sport.

You said before that you’re not feeling like you’re on top form. In your mind does that get cancelled out by the confidence you get from winning Tour de Suisse? Or will you go into the Tour feeling a little underdone?

Obviously the Tour’s … you need to be at the top of your game physically and mentally. And we’ve seen now that the trend with Chris Froome is that he’ll go into the race a little bit underdone but then be flying in the last week and that’s kind of the approach that we’ve taken this year.

I mean, I think I was pretty good at Tour Down Under, then I got sick and I came back and I was third in [Tour de] Romandie. I didn’t feel very good there but now at Tour de Suisse I was obviously at a bit better level.

Porte was third at Romandie behind Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Egan Bernal (Sky).

I’ve been at home, just training. My coach David Bailey said “We know what works for you and that’s just you riding your bike, doing climbs and with just a few efforts thrown in there.” Instead of when I was with Sky it was just all about efforts. Now it’s also about gaining elevation in training because that’s what you do in the third week of Tour anyway,  it’s just back-to-back big climbing days.

So you’re coming into the Tour a little more underdone than usual. How do you rate your chances compared to in previous years?

It’s probably a little bit wait and see. I’d say last year with Dauphine, I won the time trial and I think I was climbing the best of anyone there, and then I went to the Tour and I was home after the ninth stage because of my crash. I mean, I’m not quite there [ed. at the same level as last year].

I’ve got a few days to recover from Suisse and obviously after a hard race like that you gain form anyhow because you have to. But then we’re doing an altitude camp and Alps recon for eight days. So we leave for that on Friday. So I think that’s where I’m going to make the gains now going forward to the Tour.

Who do you see as the guys to beat? You got a good look at Nairo Quintana at Suisse…

Yeah. I think Jakob Fuglsang was brilliant there at Suisse. He’d have won the race if Astana hadn’t blown the team time trial like they did. Then I guess [Vincenzo] Nibali. Nibali is class any way you look at it.

But I still think … you look at Froomey last year in the Tour and the Vuelta: he was better in the Vuelta than he was in the Tour. He’s got a smart coach in Tim Kerrison who knows what he’s doing so I think Froomey’s probably going to be the man to beat. I mean, I hope Geraint Thomas gets his opportunity as well. I think he deserves that after winning the Dauphine.

What do you make of the ongoing controversy around Froome?

It’s a tricky one. Chris and I have been teammates for years and I never saw anything to doubt that he’s genuine and the best Grand Tour racer of his generation. So it came as a massive surprise to me this whole thing too. I think for him to come out and win the Giro under that cloud of controversy just shows how mentally strong the guy is. But it’s yet to be seen if he is going to ride the Tour. Who knows.

Chris Froome won the Giro after being minutes behind coming in the final week.

I mean at the end of the day it’s just a shame that cycling once again airs its dirty washing in public, because it shouldn’t even be out there. People forget that. I think people are going to say that I’m just covering for him but at the end of the day he has the right to have been able to defend himself without it all being in the media. I mean, he’s a human being after all. Somehow it’s been leaked and I think that’s also something that needs to be investigated; how the hell it got out.

So to you, you’re comfortable with him racing the Giro and racing the Tour? You feel like that’s part of the process and it’s fine?

I don’t know. I don’t really know the process or all the rules. But from what you read he’s not broken any rules [ed. by riding the Giro] and he’s not the first guy to fall foul of the anti-doping rules and ride and win a Grand Tour.

I think everyone’s got their opinion — and they’re entitled to that — about whether or not he should have been able to ride the Giro. But he’s not breaking any rules and I’m sure that the UCI, if he was breaking any rules, they would have loved to have stopped him from riding the Giro and the Tour. I think he’s obviously got more of a legal case than what people are saying.

You helped bring Simon Gerrans across to BMC this year. How important has he been to you so far and how do you think he’ll be able to support you at the Tour de France?

Gerro, for me, is just the epitome of professionalism. On the stage on Friday, in Tour de Suisse, where we went up over Furkapass and [Klausenpass], Simon was up early on the home trainer to spin the legs out so he could help control the breakaway in the morning. It just shows how professional he is.

Porte follows Gerrans’ wheel on stage 8 of the Tour de Suisse.

Tactically, it’s like racing with Mick Rogers or someone like that again — just to have a road captain that can call the shots on the road and feel the race. The directors in the team are brilliant but when Simon’s there on the road with you it’s a better perspective of how to ride.

Look, Simon’s such a good mate off the bike, but to actually race with him finally … which is probably going to be the last season and the fact that he was happy to come and help me to try and go for the Tour de France, it means the world to me. Money can’t buy experience like Simon so he’s a great addition to the team. I think he’s done a lot to make our team more professional also.

Speaking of the team, there’s obviously a big question mark over BMC’s future at the moment. What’s the mood among the riders at the moment? Is there a feeling of uncertainty?

Massively. We had a really good group of guys at the Tour de Suisse. Guys like Micky Schär who’s been there from the beginning, Greg Van Avermaet — everyone there doesn’t have a clue what’s going to happen. It is getting late now, especially for me now that I have a little boy and I’ve got offers from great teams to go elsewhere. Obviously I’d love to stay loyal to the team cause I’m happy there but I mean you can’t wait forever.

I think it’s a shame. I think even if the team does continue, it’s probably going to lose some good people but that’s just the way the sport is I suppose.

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