Richie Porte: Paris-Nice Champion
Once through the opening days that he feared the most, Porte took advantage of the terrain, his good form and – some say – the tactical errors of his nearest rival. By stage five he was in the lead of GC thanks to a stage victory at Montagne la Lure. Between the presentation of his first yellow jersey in the French race to the top step of the final podium, were two stages: a 220km undulating day from Manosque to Nice, followed by a 9.6km time trial up the col d’Eze.
He managed his leadership duties like the professional that he is; telling himself that he “was going to have a good race”. That’s just what he did.
Porte is the first Australian to win this so-called ‘Race to the Sun’. The week-long stage race was first contested in 1933. There were a few interrupted years early in its history and, in 2013, the 71st edition was held. State pride is arguably stronger for Tasmanians and Richie enjoys correcting people about where he grew up. Yes, he’s a proud Australian but he likes to remind us that he’s from the island below the mainland.
On Tuesday morning in Monaco he rolled out of bed, reached for his phone and typed, “I’m up.” And with that cue, a phone call was made. Here is a transcript of the subsequent exchange…
Richie Porte Interview
(12 March 2013)
– By Rob Arnold
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“I’m up early as usual,” said a chirpy Porte who, by his own admission, hasn’t got a lot to do for a few days. His next race is Criterium International (23-24 March) on the island of Corsica. Until then, his focus is to relax and continue building his base before the team’s biggest objective of the year which comes in July. “It’s all good. Just fixed myself a cup of coffee. It’s not so bad over here; the sun is out, put it that way. It’s been really weird here the last weekend – it’s just been raining full-gas. Usually it wouldn’t rain as much as it has.”
RIDE: So it was not really the ‘Race to the Sun’ this year…
Porte: “Oh, it never is. At least it hasn’t been for me. It was just the standard ‘Race Away from the Sun’, wasn’t it?”
RIDE: The reaction we have received to posts about your performances has been most supportive. Have you had much feedback?
Porte: “Yes, it’s been generous – especially from Australia, there’s been interest. I haven’t really received anything but positive comments. Everyone seems pretty happy, especially me.”
RIDE: There were a couple of interviews with you before the race about the role of leadership. A few people suggested that you were pretty nervous about it. Were you? What was your state of mind? When you went to the start did you think, ‘Right, I’ve got this covered…’?
Porte: “The thing with me is that it was a little bit stressful to go into that race as team leader because in the four years that I’ve been pro, I’ve ridden that race every year and I’ve never enjoyed it. Now, okay, it’s a beautiful race and it’s got its history and everything but it’s also one of the most stressful and hardest races of the year.
“You leave Paris and go straight into open fields where it’s crosswinds, also it’s cold and the weather is different every day. But I guess it was a good omen that we started on a Sunday with a prologue in beautiful weather.
“Then, the first few days when it really could have been nasty with crosswinds, it was actually quite calm and relatively good weather. That, for me, was the hardest part: just getting through the first two days without losing any time – and then to get to the third day and actually take time on a wet descent.
“I knew that I had to flick a switch in my mind; I told myself early that I was going to have a good race.”
RIDE: Stage three was Andrew Talansky’s turn to win, then came Michael Albasini in stage four. It meant that Talansky had shown his form early and you knew what sort of qualities he had. If we consider your [first] stage win [at Montagne la Lure], Talansky seemed to attack enough to have gifted you the chance to take time. But you also rode it perfectly by remaining calm. How advantageous for you was it that he kept on attacking?
Porte: “With Talansky there’s been a lot said about his tactics but on the day that he won his stage he didn’t want to ride with me which is just a little bit hard to understand. Why would a guy who wants to win the race refuse to ride with another guy who wants to win the race? If we’ve got a good gap, why not push on?
“The thing was: I had a team-mate up the road [Vasil Kiryienka] so I wasn’t obliged to work. I understood that he [Talansky] wasn’t going to pull with me and he understands with hindsight that that wasn’t very smart. We probably could have actually taken more time on the other favourites who were behind us had he done things differently. If he started working with me as soon as we got to the bottom of that wet descent so that we got to my team-mate in the front group then we would have had a lot more time to play with in the final few days.”
RIDE: What is Talansky like as a person?
Porte: “He’s quite American, in that he’s a little bit brash… I guess. But he’s actually a good guy. He’s a massive talent and, to be honest, I think he’s probably the under-rated one of those young Americans. He’s got more potential than someone like Taylor Phinney who… okay, he’s won a prologue in the Giro and got the jersey – but the way that Talansky won that stage in Paris-Nice was impressive.
“Paris-Nice is a big race and he was taking on the whole field and beating everyone. For me he’s The Under-rated American out of Tejay [van Garderen], Taylor Phinney and those guys. I’m not sure if I’ve worded that right but I hope you get the gist of what I mean; he is the one that’s probably going to be the biggest of this new generation.”
RIDE: You put him up against Tejay, who was also pushing you a little bit last week… so how do you compare those two?
Porte: “We know about Tejay. He was fifth in the Tour [de France] last year and he’s a big talent. But to hear him before Paris-Nice saying that he was there to win and this and that… but then, at the end, he was telling people that I was at 100 per cent fitness and he’s only at 90. I don’t quite understand what that’s all about but I think Talansky can out-climb Tejay and out-time trial him too. He just doesn’t have the team that Tejay has behind him.”
RIDE: Do you think Tejay will earn leadership of BMC?
Porte: “Yeah, that’s my feeling. It’s not rocket science. It’s the obvious thing: he’s 24, he’s already been fifth in the Tour, he’s an American on an American team… I think BMC is going to support him through this year and they’d be crazy not to.”
RIDE: Have you spoken with him – or Cadel – about that?
Porte: “Ah. No. Not really.”
RIDE: You seem to have a good rapport with Talansky if we can make that judgement based on photos of you on the podium.
Porte: “Yeah, I have a good relationship with him. After the race I obviously congratulated him and he was humble. To be honest, I think he realised that – had he played his cards correctly – he probably could have given me a bit more of a run for my money. But that’s racing and I look forward to having some good battles with him over the next few years.”
RIDE: Tell me about the day to Montagne la Lure… about your stage win.
Porte: “It’s nice to actually be able to be the rider who is being worked for instead of working for Brad or Chris. I recognise it as a massive opportunity but I thought it was going to be a bit of a harder climb than what it was. Still, it was a brilliant stage.
“We took it up from the bottom a little like what Sky has done last year. We had ‘Kosta’ Siutsou set a good pace. David Lopez also did some great work; he’s just joined the team at the start of this year [moving from Movistar]. He really was the brains for my ride; he rode a good enough tempo that guys could attack but they weren’t going to get anywhere, you know? [Robert] Gesink tried. [Michele] Scarponi tried. And they could get no more than five or six seconds… and those two are some pretty big names in pro cycling. Not as many people would know of Lopez but it shows what a classy bike rider he is.”
RIDE: Who were you rooming with during Paris-Nice?
Porte: “Danny Pate. I’m great mates with Danny – he’s worth his weight in gold. He’ll tell me when I’m acting up; he’s straight down the line.”
RIDE: Can you talk through the rest of the guys and give us a quick appraisal of who was in your team for Paris-Nice?
Porte: “Kiryienka… he’s amazing! Most people know who Kiryienka is: he’s been third at the worlds, in the time trial last year.
“I rode the Giro in 2011 and he won the stage to Sestrière which was one of the hardest stages you could ever do in a Grand Tour. Kiryienka rode away. He was in the early break and then he stayed clear of, you know, Alberto Contador and Denis Menchov, Vincenzo Nibali… all of those guys. And he did so by himself for the last 15 kilomtres. He’s hard as nails.
“Jonathan Tiernan-Locke is a new signing and it’s a big step up for him: from riding smaller races in France to, this year, doing Paris-Nice at the front of the peloton. He played a good role on the third stage when I got time on the rest of them. He pulled and split the bunch on the climb just before the descent.
“Then of course we had Xabi Zandio who is one of the most under-rated bike riders going around. He’s a little bit older and a Spanish guy who came from Caisse d’Epargne [after the 2010 season]. Anyone who is into cycling knows what a brilliant bike rider he is. He’s just always there. He’s absolutely capable of much more and he’s a brilliant guy. All the Spaniards are good, relaxed guys.
“We also had Ian Boswell. He and Joe Dombrowski came across to the team for 2013 and they are earmarked as future GC riders. Boswell has just turned 22 and he’s quite impressive; he pulled all day on the Saturday to defend the jersey for me, so that’s amazing. Paris-Nice, a neo-pro pulling…! That’s pretty bloody impressive.
“Finally there’s good old Kosta! Kanstantsin Siutsou. It could be ‘Kansts’ but we just call him Kosta. Obviously, most people know who he is. He’s another Belorussian tank. He was in the Tour team last year. Just to be in Sky’s Tour team shows that he’s a quality rider. But he broke his leg last year and so he has to come back from that. He had some brilliant moments in Paris-Nice, as per usual. But that’s just Kosta – he’s one of the best workhorses in the peloton.”
RIDE: I’m also curious about how you managed the week. I mean, the col d’Eze – that’s got a really nice, nostalgic ring to it when it comes to cycling. It represents something, doesn’t it? A lot of people have done that time trial and you can compare yourself with them. And you’ve won that stage to win the title of Paris-Nice. That’s a special moment for any pro cyclist.
Porte: “Yeah, you’ve hit the nail right on the head.
“It’s nice to win a mountain stage but to me the col d’Eze is one of those special stages. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.
“The col d’Eze time trial is something special. I’ve read about all those guys on the list who have won up there. To have my name alongside Bradley for the win on col d’Eze – a climb in my ‘back yard’ – is great. I know that climb well. It’s very close to my home.
“In my mind, on the morning that I did a reconnaissance of it, I knew I was going to have a good ride. I was just confident and that was a big help.”
RIDE: It is very close to where you live [11km]. Do you really ride it regularly or is that just a bit of ‘story’ for the sake of the race?
Porte: “I do ride it quite a lot and I do so more often at this time of the year because there’s often a little bit of snow on the climbs around here. The col d’Eze is only about 500 metres high [507m] so it’s not as cold as going up over the Madone [915m] or something like that. I do actually go over that way quite often to get home from a training ride.”
RIDE: And if you compare your TT time to what you’d do if you’re doing a solid effort in training, what’s the difference?
Porte: “Oh… it’s about four minutes quicker! But in a race you’re able to cut corners as there’s a full road closure so it’s not right to compare; it’s a little bit different.
“People are comparing the times to Brad’s [from the final stage of 2012] but this year’s time trial was actually a little bit longer than the one of last year. It’s funny that none of the journalists picked up on that.”
RIDE: You’ve done that stage both years, so how much longer was it this March?
Porte: “I don’t know the exact measurements but it was probably 50 or 60 metres longer.
“Nicolas Roche told me that before they used to come along a flat and then they would turn right and get onto the climb. This year we went along a little bit of flat and then turned left into it. Whereas last year, it started right at the bottom and the race went straight into the climb. It was a little bit longer this time so you can’t really compare my time to Brad’s time on that climb.”
RIDE: But if we do consider the extra distance, maybe you are faster than Brad Wiggins… have you heard from Brad since you won?
Porte: “Yeah, I have. His was the first message after I won the stage on Friday. Then he sent me a message on Monday. To me that’s the message that meant the most.
“He said he was proud of me and that he never doubted it. I think it’s nice to get such recognition; it says a lot about Brad, doesn’t it? There’s no jealousy or anything like that. He’s happy to see his team-mates do well.”
RIDE: What an atmosphere it must be in your team at the moment. What a winning vibe you’ve got going now… I mean, you win two stages and the title in Paris-Nice and, essentially concurrently, Chris Froome wins a stage in Tirreno-Adriatico and finishes second overall there. He lost a little bit of time in the penultimate stage after having had the lead…
Porte: “That’s not over yet either, is it? [This interview was done a few hours before the final time trial of the Italian race, in which Froome ultimately finished sixth, at 15”, in the final stage – a 9.2km TT won by Tony Martin – while the champion in 2012, Vincenzo Nibali, was 12th at 26”.] I know that he doesn’t like the cold but I was still quite surprised to see him get dropped [in stage six, won by Peter Sagan] but it was quite a nasty stage.”
RIDE: We could hypothesise that it was the wet road surface on the very steep ascent that might have cost the pure climbers like Contador and Froome the most… anyone who climbs out of the saddle would have been at a disadvantage on something that’s as steep as 30 per cent.
Porte: “That’s true. I mean, I think that was half the problem.”
RIDE: Sagan had said that he saw Contador’s wheel slipping each time he tried an acceleration…
But Sky is on a high. It seems like everyone on the team is flying. But, going back to what van Garderen had said about you in Paris-Nice… are you at 100 per cent or are there improvements yet to come this season?
Porte: “I don’t really know. I’m a bit heavier at the moment than what I’d ride the Tour de France at. I’m about two kilos more so I’ve got a couple of kilos to lose. But I went back to Australia over the summer and trained. I just rode my bike but I didn’t really race a great deal whereas last year when I was in Tasmania, I was doing efforts and all sorts of specific work.
“Obviously, I won [Volta ao] Algarve last year [in February] but this year I’ve been a lot more relaxed and I’ve won Paris-Nice so hopefully all those kilometres in the legs will pay off.”
RIDE: It doesn’t seem that long ago that we spoke at the start of the 2010 season when you were a wide-eyed pro and now you’re a winner of Paris-Nice and have ridden the Tour de France with the champion… you’ve done amazing things on the bike. Do you think that this rise and rise of Richie will keep on going?
People are already speculating about what’s yet to come – largely because of your finishline comments about the 2014 Giro d’Italia – but do you prioritise like that?
Porte: “Obviously, if you win Paris-Nice you look at the next race to target. Eventually I’m going to want to ride a Grand Tour and try and go for a win of the general classification. I think it would be a nice way to start next year: ride the Giro and try and get a good result. But Paris-Nice is eight days and the Giro is 21 days of racing – it’s a little bit different. Still, it’s not such a bad thing to do: go and win Paris-Nice… it’s a race with a long list of big champions.”
RIDE: It’s certainly different to sitting on the deck of a pool as a lifeguard…
Porte: “It is isn’t it? I looked back at that column from a few years ago and had a little smile about how things have changed.”
RIDE: That was part of The Making of Richie Porte – The Bike Rider. Like we often say when we speak, people seem to warm to you. Do you get that sort of reaction from the French public too?
Porte: “Yeah, it seems to me that they like to see Aussies do well. They don’t really have a problem with Australians. I think the support – especially on the col d’Eze where there were a lot of people who know me – was good. They seem to have an interest in me, but certainly the support coming from Australia is pretty amazing.”
RIDE: Is there anything you’d like to share – something that really stands out about this last week which we haven’t yet spoken about?
Porte: “Not really. Some of it is just personal stuff like me thinking back to 2010 and how things were at that same race. That was when I was told in no uncertain terms that I was ‘too fat to be a cyclist’. To then come out and win a race that has just been the worst for me in the past is most satisfying. It’s been such a hard race for me in the last few years.
“Bobby Julich said to me last year, ‘You’ll win this race one day!’ And then I’ve come out and done that so it’s pretty cool.”
RIDE: Have you heard from Bobby?
Porte: “He sent me a text with a picture of his [Paris-Nice] trophy from 2004 and a note to say, ‘Welcome to the club’. That’s so Bobby.
“I haven’t really talked to him a hell of a lot but he’s one guy that I do want to catch up with. I’m looking forward to going on a coffee ride with him some time. I don’t know what he’s doing: he’s still living in Nice but that’s about all I know for certain.”
RIDE: What’s the next thing you’ve got to do?
Porte: “Just relax. I’ve got Criterium International [in Corsica] coming up soon but for the immediate future, I’m looking forward to watching Milan-San Remo to be honest.”
RIDE: Can anyone beat Peter Sagan?
“It’s going to be hard because Sagan is such a big favourite. He’s the strongest there but does he have the strongest team? I don’t know. What do you reckon?”
RIDE: I think that, at the moment, it’s hard to think of anyone being able to beat Sagan… he’s incredible. We know he can get over the climbs. On the descent, he can seemingly beat everyone. And in a sprint… he beats everyone but ‘Cav’.
Porte: “It’s going to be a great race. It’s his race to lose. The only thing that can let him down is the team. If the right move goes up the road before the Cipressa… that’s the only thing that’s going to stress him.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold
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