Le Tour 2016: Richie Porte interview (pt 1)
We caught up with Richie Porte earlier this week to find out how he’s managing himself in these crucial days leading up the Le Tour 2016.
In part one of a two-part interview, he talks about the joys of routine, the benefits of training at home and the fact that he’s happy with his preparation…
The 2016 Tour de France will be the 10th Grand Tour for Richie Porte. The 31-year-old Tasmanian won the youth classification in his first three week race, the Giro d’Italia of 2010. Many kilometres have passed under his wheels since that race to seventh place overall in the Giro.
He’s experienced what it’s like to be part of the team that’s won the biggest title in cycling three times. The Tour de France winners in 2012, 2013 and 2015 were his team-mates.
Now the time has come for him to have a go for himself. And he believes he’s ready. There are only 10 days to go before the Grand Départ of the Tour’s 103rd edition and Porte is Australia’s main hope for a good result in the general classification.
(Porte discusses many aspects of preparing for a challenge like racing for the win at Le Tour in a feature of the Official Tour de France Guide, Australian edition – on sale now.)
He understands that there are expectations on him during his first Tour campaign with BMC Racing. But he has also often said that he’s tired of talking about what we can expect to happen in July. “I sort of think, ‘One more month… and I’ll be almost riding into Paris.’ That makes it a bit more bearable.”
RIDE spoke with him on Monday 20 June, 12 days before the Grand Départ. The aim was to allow him to dictate topics, to deliberately avoid questions that have been asked – and answered – before.
This is our third formal interview in 2016 and he’s covered the predictable topics in the Official Tour Guide and in a discussion after his third place in Paris-Nice.
He’s explained how he expects the collaboration with Tejay van Garderen will go.
“I’m actually quite excited to be able to take a little bit more of a backseat; Sky and Tinkoff are the teams that have to ride the race,” he said in March. “I think Tejay [van Garderen] and I can hopefully sit in.”
He’s talked about his relationship with Chris Froome and what he’s learned from the two-time Tour champion.
“I think Froomey’s harder to pick than a broken nose,” he said in January. “No one knows if he’s on a bad day.”
And, whether he likes it or not, he’ll be discussing other Tour related topics for the rest of his life. That’s the plight he finds himself in but, listening to Porte, you get the impression that The Review is more enjoyable that The Preview.
* * * * *
As the first of a series of interviews organised by his BMC Racing PR officer, I explained how it was my hope to explore more than the obvious topic. (And we’ll cover some of that other territory in part two of this interview but in part one, we consider the lead-up to the Tour and how he’s coping at his new team for 2016.) I know he is fed up with talking about what to expect from the Tour de France and, I told him on Monday afternoon Monaco time, it was my aim to not ask questions about it.
“Ah really?” he replied. “Cool. That’s nice.”
But it’s difficult to avoid the Tour when talking to a guy who is trying to win it. And he returns to automatic mode, immediately leading the discussion back to the event which begins on 2 July the La Manche department in the north west of France.
“Obviously the Tour is the most stressful race of the season for us,” he says over the phone from his apartment. His wife, Gemma, is in the room listening in and Richie has just minutes earlier returned from his morning training ride.
“It is the biggest race but it’s a funny one, the week before it – just going through the last work which is more like getting a bit of climbing in, a bit more time on the time trial bike… that sort of stuff.”
He takes a slurp from a protein shake he prepared moments before answering my call. And it almost seems as though he’s still catching his breath. I ask if that’s the case. “Yep,” he pants and takes another sip. “Just got back home.”
The team likes to have things well organised. He knows when the calls from journalists are going to come and manages to time the training ride perfectly. He rolls in the door with a minute to spare before taking the call on a line organised by BMC Racing. I want to know if it’s a case of sprinting to the door – how does a training ride end for Porte less than a fortnight from the Tour? “Oh, it’s a bit of a descent down through traffic to be honest.”
Although he’s a friendly character, there’s no time for small talk. Every minute of the day is accounted for and this is a critical time in the season for Porte. Still it’s obvious that he’s still clad in lycra and beginning the cool down routine so I talk a little and allow him time to adjust from riding.
Do you feel the sting in the legs from the climb? Or is it the thrill of the descent into Monaco that sticks with him? Or is it the knowledge that he’ll soon going to be on the lounge and able to take it easy? By now he’s relaxed.
He laughs and confesses: “I must admit it’s the lounge, for sure.”
Two minutes into our chat he’s breathing normally again but it’s obvious that he’s still walking around the apartment after a five-hour session on the bike. Soon he’ll put his feet up and enjoy another important component of his profession: rest.
He admits being happy to be in Monaco. “We were in Avoriaz, so just above Morzine,” he explains about a training camp organised by BMC Racing only a few days earlier, “but the weather was terrible.
“It was snowing up there and then the long-range forecast was for it to get worse so I decided to come back home.”
This is where he’s happy. For now Monaco is his town. He’s happy there and happier just to have a routine and escape a bit of the madness of what is an important stanza in his career. There have been 40 days of racing up to this point in the season, nine less than the same time last year. But he’s been away from home a fair bit and he misses the routine.
The training camps serve a purpose and he doesn’t complain, it’s part of the job. Still, sometimes the small benefits of being home at sea level outweigh the advantage of training at altitude.
“It’s just easy to be at home when you’ve got your own routine and it obviously works,” he says. “I’ve been a pro long enough now to know what I need to do.
“If you’re at altitude and you can’t sleep because of the altitude and then it’s snowing and things like that, then you’re just better off being at home training at sea-level in good weather, aren’t you?”
He then answers his own question: “Obviously you’re better – you put out more power – at sea-level but you lose a few benefits of being at altitude…”
There’s a reason why so many Tour riders train at altitude. Porte has done a lot of that but he’s realistic about how to get the most out of his training rides. Go home, get into the routine, rest well, eat well, and spend time with Gemma… for soon he’ll be back on the road again, doing his real job: racing his bike.
* * * * *
Talking about the Tour annoys him but riding the Tour is a different matter. He doesn’t mind that part. And it’s different now that he’s no longer riding in the service of another.
“It is different for me from the point of view that, finally, I’ve got my chance to ride my own race instead of being there as a back-up GC or a support rider so that’s quite exciting for me.
“To think that means that now it’s easier to hurt myself [because] I’m hurting myself for my own result. It’s easier from that point of view.
“I’m happy with where I’m at; I’m in good form and am just really looking forward to getting started.”
He’s experienced a lot since that seventh place in the Giro d’Italia but some elements must still remain, like the anxiety that comes with doing a Grand Tour. Does he still get butterflies in the stomach? “I don’t know about getting ‘anxious’ but it’s certainly something; I do feel more nervous than going into other races, that’s for sure.”
Does worrying affect him, rob him of energy? “Stress doesn’t do anything for you, it doesn’t get you anywhere. So, obviously, being close to [Chris] and Brad [Wiggins] I learned a lot; they both took it in a different way but Froomey is a great example, he’s just not stressed about anything.
“Certainly for me, I wouldn’t say I’m anxious but it is unchartered territory for me, going into the Tour having my own opportunity.”
Inevitably much of our discussion is about a race he’d rather not talk about for the time being. We find ourselves talking about food, training, indulgences, friendships, travel, television programs and other aspects of the daily routine of Richie Porte. But it’s cycling that pays the bills.
Does he still find it engaging or is it just about getting the work done, focusing on producing the numbers his trainer wants to see, and then figuring out a way to relax?
“I’m just putting the finishing touches on things: watching my weight, watching what I eat and things like that,” he explains from the lounge.
“I wouldn’t say it’s really watching the SRM because I’m not really a rider like that, I never have been.
“Obviously you do your efforts and stuff like that but I think if you’re always chasing The Numbers, it can drive you crazy.
“For me now it’s just important that I know my condition is good. The Dauphiné was a hard race and I came through that quite well so now it’s all a bit of a fine balance between diet and sleep and getting this last lot of work in on the bike.”
– Richie Porte interview: part two coming soon –