Richie Porte leads the UCI’s WorldTour rankings. He was second overall in the Tour Down Under (just nine seconds behind Simon Gerrans) and in March he finished third in the final stage of Paris-Nice to move onto the GC podium – finishing third, 12 seconds behind Geraint Thomas. We caught with the Tasmanian from BMC Racing to hear how he found the competition in France and how he’s settling into the new team for 2016…
Click the SoundCloud file to listen to the exchange and/or read the transcript below…
RIDE: I’m talking with Richie Porte on the Wednesday after Paris-Nice. He’s pulled off another podium but this time it’s third place in a race where he got pretty sick by the sounds of it. How are you feeling now?
Richie Porte: “I’m a little bit under the weather but I’ve got a few more days at home until [the Volta a] Catalunya so I’m happy with how Paris-Nice went. Obviously I won it last year and I’ve got different goals this year so all things in perspective, that’s a good way to start my European campaign.”
If I suggested that anyone watch a bike race from this year it would be the final stage of Paris-Nice, it was a ripper in the end – very compelling to watch. How was it to ride?
“It was a full on battle.
“Geraint Thomas came to me in the morning and said Contador was going to move on the col de Peille, which is probably 40 or so kilometres to the finish, and you still had quite a hard climb in col d’Eze to come and a long descent.
“It was quite a ballsy move but I think it sort of showed that you don’t have to put 200km stages in, you can put shorter ones in (141km for stage seven) and you’re going to get more entertaining racing to watch.”
And certainly if you put Contador in, you’re always going to get a little extra entertainment, aren’t you?
“Yeah, exactly. That’s the thing with Alberto, he is a racer and he knows how to take the race on.
“You’ve kind of got to tip your hat to him…
“These are our training roads so we know what’s in between the col de Peille and the col d’Eze and it came across as a bit of a crazy move.
“I think it was brilliant for TV but Team Sky had a bit of a job on their hands and I was kind of happy I wasn’t riding for them when I saw them all lined up on the front going down into Nice.”
We saw you have a little chat with Alberto when the two of you were away. What’s being discussed then? It’s an obvious question but what language are you speaking and what have you got to say to one another?
“I use English.
“To be honest with you, I didn’t really want to attack ‘G’. I said that to G – that wouldn’t attack him first… but then I also wanted to be on the podium and although G is one of my good mates, it’s a race. I didn’t really want to cooperate too much with Alberto but when we got away, it was to go for the podium for myself and try to get rid of [Ilnur] Zakarin (the stage winner on the Saturday, and third on GC going into the final stage just one second ahead of Porte).
“I guess we both had interests and I think it worked out quite well in the end, to move up into third position on the last day was quite a nice feeling.”
A [stage] win would have changed things for Alberto. He would have gotten the time bonus and taken the yellow jersey, is that right?
“Yeah, that’s it. He would have been tied for time with Geraint; I’m not sure what happens then but I think last year there was a tie for second place between [Michal] Kwiatkowski and [Simon] Spilak. (Note: It was actually a tie for third, Spilak and Rui Costa on same time – with the Polish rider standing on the podium and the Portuguese relegated to fourth on a count-back.)
“I think that’s Paris-Nice, isn’t it? Nice and tight on times, especially this year.”
And it gets to expose a few talents like Tim Wellens who won that final stage. He’s been definitely nipping at the heels, we know he’s capable of a good result. He seemed elated with his win [in Nice]. And then Contador and G seemed to be all smiles on the podium… is that how it was?
“Yeah, Tim Wellens… anybody who is really into cycling knows what a talent he is. He’s won the Eneco Tour the last two years. He’s got a big future.
“Then, when we caught him at the top of the col d’Eze, it was quite evident that he was more interested in going for the stage. He didn’t really ride 100 percent with us but why should he?
“That stage win was probably the biggest of his career.”
What do you take home from it? Do you prefer it as a road stage finish or a time trial finish up the col d’Eze? What would you rather?
“Personally I prefer the time trial up col d’Eze – that’s just Paris-Nice, to finish it off up the top of the col d’Eze.
“I’d also say how fast we rode up col d’Eze it kind of felt like a time trial anyhow. It’s kind of nice to finish in what is sort of our adopted hometown; all the Aussies living close to Monaco so to finish in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais is quite a feeling.”
So, [considering] the 12 seconds… do you think if it was a TT up the col d’Eze you would have made up that deficit to Geraint?
“Ah, you can never say that but Geraint was absolutely in fantastic condition for Paris-Nice this year.
“He’s been so motivated for so long to go there and do well in that race. You can’t take anything away from him because on the climb to La Madone d’Utelle (at the end of stage six) I think Geraint was the strongest rider.
“Sergio Henao was great for him but Geraint was… well, that climb was absolutely spot on for him. He rode a great race.”
It’s kind of odd… obviously you’ve ridden with pretty much every GC rider [in the modern peloton] as a support rider. Now you’re in as leader. That’s going to be the theme of interviews throughout the year – but how did you manage being on top at BMC and seeing a former team-mate win the title?
“It’s a little bit different.
“You can kind of think a little more for yourself and that is a hard thing. Coming from Team Sky where I’d got to Paris-Nice and Catalunya and lead but ultimately, in the back of my mind, I knew that come July I’m going to be helping somebody else.
“But I don’t see it as stress.
“I think, obviously, the guys having the stress are the guys like Froomey and Contador who are the overwhelming favourites to go and win the Tour [de France] and I’m actually quite excited to be able to take a little bit more of a backseat; Sky and Saxo – or Tinkoff – are the teams that have to ride the race.
“I think Tejay [van Garderen] and I can hopefully sit in.
“It was nice to go to Paris-Nice and race against Tinkoff with Contador and [Rafal] Majka, and Sky with Geraint Thomas and Sergio Henao and see that, having two guys on GC is actually quite a good [plan] for the tactics in the race. Hopefully Tejay and I will be around the mark in July.”
Are you feeling well versed in different ways of talking about July? Do you know what I mean?
“That’s the thing… I know exactly what you mean.
“That’s the thing with cycling: you’re just a kid that grew up and could ride a bike and all of a sudden you have to be able to talk the talk and be careful what you say and things like that.
“It does get a little bit boring talking about July. I just hope it rolls around nice a quick and hopefully my form is where I need it to be to actually challenge in July instead of just talking about it.”
So let’s just jump away from the obvious questions and ponder what do you do when you come out of a race like Paris-Nice, which has had a stage cancelled because of snow, and you know you’ve got to go to Catalunya – which has badly affected by the cold – what are you going to do with a cold when those are two of the early-season priorities?
“I think it’s a bit of a weird one for me this year.
“Obviously last year I won Paris-Nice and then two weeks later I won Catalunya as well.
“They are the stage races of the start of the year but it is hard coming from an Australian summer to riding in snow and things like that.
“This year I hadn’t worn my rain jacket or anything like that until Paris-Nice and it is kind of like you feel like a Michelin Man riding around with a rain jacket and thermal vests and things like that on… I think that’s a bit of a hard one, to get the body to adjust to that.
“I think that’s kind of why I’m sitting on the couch as crook as a dog at the moment.”
It’s clear that you are full of nasal mucus. How do you manage it? Is it a saline spray…? I know that I can take a little [nasal] cortisone spray when I feel hay fever or a cold coming on but you guys can’t…
“No. That’s the thing isn’t it? You do have to be careful with what you do but I don’t think there’s a hell of a lot you can do for a cold at the moment. It’s just the old Vicks VapoRub and sneeze everywhere…
“I’ve just got to take it easy now.
“I think my form is not too bad so there’s not much I can do other than just try and recover.”
I don’t know if you had a listen, but I popped up an interview that I did with Geraint in January and he talked a bit about diet. You know the scheming that they do at Sky very well; has it changed much since you moved to BMC?
“No. That’s the thing about being a professional bike rider: you should know how to do your diet and things like that. It’s no different.
“Obviously Sky is a fantastic team. People like to criticise them every now and then but I think I learned a lot in my four years there about diet and things like this.
“Obviously working with Tim Kerrison, a fellow Aussie who is the sport scientist there, he’s probably been – up to this point – the biggest… the best person I’ve ever worked with. He’s fantastic!
“I think I’ve learnt a few tricks of the trade there.
“It’s not rocket science. Cycling is a power-to-weight sport so it’s just all about trying to keep the weight down but then also making it sustainable for July as well.”
I noted earlier today that BMC offered a [media] release saying that you were leading the WorldTour; it’s probably the only time I’ve seen it referenced. It certainly hasn’t gotten any traction in the Australian media. We haven’t seen much coverage of cycling at all this year… do you get irritated by that, given that you’re leading this so-called ‘blue riband’ event?
“I think, ‘Whatever’. Obviously Australia is a bit caught up with the football and things like that but I don’t really mind. We’re over here doing our thing and I guess we don’t get that much coverage back in Australia. But then you go to the Tour Down Under and things like that and how can you say that cycling is not mainstream? The sport is absolutely booming and I guess it’s just a great thing to see.
“Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen and Brad McGee and Stuart O’Grady… guys like that have really paved the future for us next generation.
“I guess maybe the mainstream media might catch up with the rest of the world on cycling but I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.”
Are you getting plenty of interview requests from European media?
“Ah, that’s the thing: cycling is a much bigger deal over here than it is in Australia.
“You go to the UK and it’s everywhere. Obviously they have Team Sky and things like that but obviously Europeans are a little more interested in it than what the Aussie media are.”
Did you get engaged by the track world championships at all, just out of curiosity?
“Yeah, I quite enjoyed that but the thing with us is that we then went up to Paris-Nice early so I actually missed the Madison which was a shame. But I did watch a bit of the track worlds and it was awesome to see – the Aussies are going to be a force at the Olympics.”
You’re riding at the highest level. You are putting yourself out there for a Tour de France podium and you still enjoy watching the sport – even when it’s a discipline that you haven’t had a lot to do with?
“Yeah, of course. I think cycling is obviously a job at the moment but it’s still a passion; you still enjoy watching it.”
I read earlier this year that you didn’t think you’d be involved with cycling afterwards. You just sort of find the riding enjoyable but not the politics? Is that the synopsis of that situation?
“Yeah, I think so. I don’t see myself… well, obviously I’m married to an English girl so I’m not really sure if we’ll end up in England or Australia, I’ve got to be honest with you.
“I don’t see myself really having much to do with it.
“I was told a story the other day of Michael Wilson, a fellow Tasmanian who was a trailblazer but nobody really knows much about his story… I heard that in Paris-Nice or one of those earlier races, when the bunch stopped for the pisser, he looked up and saw a vineyard and saw a guy working away in there… and he was thinking, ‘There’s more to life than just cycling – and that’s the job I want to do: work in a vineyard.’ And that’s what he’s doing now.
“To be honest with you, I think cycling at this level is quite stressful and cut-throat. It’s sort of a business so I don’t know that that’s what I want to do with myself for the rest of my life.
“I’d like to be doing something a little bit more… ah, stress free I guess.”
Something other than sitting around and ‘talking about the glory days’…?
“Yeah, that’s it.”
It’s always a pleasure chatting with you. If you do find that you get too sick, will the team pull you from Catalunya or are you just going to battle on through?
“Of course it’s always a chance but we’ll just see.
“I need to do the racing, obviously, but if you’re really sick there’s not much point going and getting your head kicked in for another seven days in Catalunya but I’m quite confident that I should be there and hopefully trading blows with Froomey and Contador and Geraint Thomas again.”
Have you seen Chris? You live nearby so you would have bumped into him, surely…
“Yeah… he’s just come back from South Africa but I bumped into him yesterday. We still get along quite well so I’ll be out riding with him some time soon.”
…Richie, all the best next week. Well done in Paris-Nice and I look forward to staying in touch with you through the rest of the season. It’s going to be a ripper of a 2016.
“Thanks a lot and thanks for taking an interest, it’s appreciated.”
–Interview by Rob Arnold