Richie Porte: exclusive interview
“No matter what happens here, I’ve still had a great season so far,” said Richie Porte a day after arriving in Corsica for the Grand Départ of his third Tour de France. He is the right-hand man of the race favourite Chris Froome. But he’s in a position on a dominant team that might see him vying for a place on the podium himself. But he’s not thinking about that yet. He’s content to recognise his achievements already in the 2013 season. RIDE‘s publisher, Rob Arnold, caught up with Porte on the Thursday before the 100th Tour de France. Here is a transcript of that exchange.
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“There’s been the Paris-Nice victory and good days in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Critérium du Dauphiné and, in some ways, the Aussie audience had sort of understood only the Tour de France. That’s changing but the Tour is still the biggest race and the one that earns the most attention. It’s not the only race.
“For us it starts in January at the Tour Down Under and it continues all through the season.
“But there are no complaints from me on how things are going at the moment. I’m in a really good place at the moment with my form and I think that it’ll be a little bit stressful for these first 10 days or so at the Tour. But I think it’s going to come down to what the strongest team is in the mountains and Sky is probably in contention for that title. We’ve shown it time and time again that we are up there.”
And the vibe, for you, is good in the team? Who are you rooming with?
“Froomey. We’ll be everywhere together these next three weeks. We always get along well. I came to the team last year and we’ve been room-mates at every race we do together. We do get along well and I don’t want to make a big thing about just because he’s the race favourite at this Tour – that’s not the reason I’m good mates with him.
“I’m good mates with him because he’s a good guy.
“We do get along well. We’re on the same wavelength even if we are totally different people. I tend to get a bit irate if we’re trying to do team time trial training and there are motorbikes sitting in front of us or beside us with photographers trying to get shots… but he just doesn’t care. We’re chalk-and-cheese in some ways but we do get along very well.”
I recently spoke with Michael Rogers and we talked about some of the riders he’s ridden with – and for – and he’s got a pretty impressive list. But you have also shared teams with some big stars of cycling. Can you do a comparison of riding for Contador, Andy Schleck, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome?
“The year I rode with Alberto in the Giro that he won before having the title taken off him, there wasn’t much I had to do for him. The only thing I could do in that race was choose who was going to police the breakaway – that’s essentially all we had to do – and then control it. On the climbs, he didn’t need any help… we couldn’t help him.
“There were times when Alberto punctured and I stopped to help him but then I got blown away by him straight away. That was just him; he’d catch up with me and then race straight past. And I’d be like, ‘Okay, that was pointless even stopping…’
“Andy… well, I really only rode Clasica San Sebastian with him in my first year at Saxo Bank and he told me he wasn’t racing that day because Alberto wasn’t there to race against. This was just after the ‘Chain Gate’ Tour. Andy actually helped me that day. So I don’t really know what it’s like to race with Andy that much.
“But Brad and Froomey are guys I’ve raced with a lot.
“Brad and I raced together at pretty much every race we did last year. And Froomey was there a lot too.
“Brad is Brad. He knows what he wants. But the orders don’t always come from him. The orders would often come from Sean Yates who was a big mentor for Brad; he was the most brilliant sports director I think I’ve ever had, other than these guys like ‘Nico’ Portal who models himself a lot on Sean.
“Last year, Sean was kind of like the unsung hero: he was absolutely calculating. Before the Tour had started, he had it all worked out in his mind.
“The other rider on the list is Chris Froome and I have to give full credit to Froomey: in the last year he’s really stepped up on every level. The way he works with his guys is impressive. He’s really become a leader!
“Two years ago nobody knew who he was, did they? I remember talking to Bobby Julich who was studying the Training Peaks and he could see that Chris had a massive engine and huge capability. Now he’s just connecting the dots. That’s just how it is.
“People who don’t actually have any affiliation with professional cycling – the ‘Twitter Heroes’ – go on about him. They think, ‘How has this guy come out from nowhere?’ Well, cycling is an apprenticeship sort of thing: you don’t just become a superstar… unless you’re Peter Sagan or someone like that. With time, Froomey has developed into possibly the next big GC rider of his generation.”
And you as a leader, how do you manage the troops?
“Oh me? I’ve been lucky that, whenever I’ve been leader, I’ve had guys like Kiryienka and Xabi Zandio who can just ride on the front all day. There were stages of Paris-Nice when ‘Kiri’ just rode at the front for the last hour; at Pais Vasco, Xabi and Kiri – on the Queen stage, that he actually won – spent all day controlling the whole peloton. The work they do is just insane!
“That’s kind of the secret to this team. Okay, they’ve got a few big name riders but it’s more the engine room guys who don’t get a lot of press – Kiri, Xabi, Kosta Siutsou… – who make it so easy. They are incredibly talented bike riders who have no problem sacrificing their own chances. At some teams they could be a leader but here they just love riding on the front.”
Have you done a lot of work on the TTT? Is that a big deal this coming week?
“Obviously, because I live in Monaco which is close to Nice, I do know the roads and it’s such a fast course so I don’t think there are going to be massive time gaps that day. It’s going to be fast and we’ve got a good mix in our team: track pursuiters and good time trial specialists – so I think, minus a mishap, we should be around the mark of the best team. There might be another group like Katusha or Movistar, even Saxo who we might be able to take some time. But you just never know how it’s going to pan out.”
Some riders like to target particular stages that suit them but for you it’s not about stage wins, is it?
“No, it’s not. Okay, we’ve got Eddy [Boasson Hagen] and on another team he would be going for stage wins but we know why where here and that’s to help Chris win the Tour – that’s our aim at the moment. The top step in Paris, that’s what we want.”
It can get repetitive: you find yourself saying the same thing over and over again. Is there anything in particular that you’ve observed that you haven’t been asked about?
“Not really. It is kind of repetitive isn’t it? The thing is, it’s the Tour. It’s the biggest race. But to be honest, we’re not being complacent. We’ve got the guy who has won the most stage races this year. But, at the end of the day, it’s just another race: you turn up and hope to win it.”
But how does it feel going to the Grand Départ now, versus how it was a year ago?
“Obviously last year we had a prologue which makes it a bit less stressful than the carnage which is going to be Corsica. At least if you’ve got a prologue it’s a little bit more clear cut whereas here, every man and his dog could get the yellow jersey on stage one. I think that’s going to make for some exciting television viewing but it’s not going to be that much fun for us out there riding the first three days.”
At least you’ve had the Criterium International experience to allow you to get used to Corsica. Is it treacherous riding on roads like this?
“Yes it is. The same old adage applies: you’ve got to ride at the front. And you can’t switch off. The moment you switch off, you find yourself 60 or 70 wheels back and you’ve got to fight to get to the front again. And when it’s as strung out as it’s going to be at the Tour, it’s a battle!
“I think Criterium International showed us how it could work out. We rode on the front all day defending the yellow jersey and then we came to the last climb of the final stage and there were only 30 guys left. I think it’s going to be a lot different; the weather will be better and the mood is different for the Tour.
“At the end of the day, we treat this like we do any other race: we come here to win.”
How does it compare with your first Tour?
“I was thinking about that just a little earlier. The first one that I did was with Alberto and we walked out onto the stage and it was in the Vendée where Europcar has a lot of fans and they all booed us. You can have your own opinion on whether Alberto deserved that kind of treatment or not but to me it was wrong. We had people spitting at us in the team time trial… but I don’t think I deserved that. I hadn’t done anything wrong.
“It’s a lot more relaxed here in Corsica. The general public seem to like Sky and so it’s a better reception. It’s also not such a big deal for me now, I can come to the Tour and I acknowledge that it’s a little bit more stressful than other races but it’s just another race.”
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