One of the worst kept secrets of the transfer season that is yet to officially begin is that Richie Porte is moving on from Team Sky. Apparently there’s still speculation about where he’s going but it’s almost common knowledge: black and blue is due to become black and red… but that’s not until 1 January 2016.
Already we’ve seen a large amount of commentary on which team Porte will ride for next year as well as plenty of calls for him to join the Australian team Orica-GreenEdge. The idea is interesting and the team owner Gerry Ryan even admits that it was something he considered – and could afford – but the circumstances simply aren’t right… not yet.
Ryan has been backing the team since its debut season in 2012 and while it’s suffered significant setbacks in its fourth Tour de France campaign, the benefactor is in this sport for the long haul. He considers a cycling team to be much like a football club, something he is familiar with as he’s involved with the Melbourne Storm rugby league club, and understands that there’s an evolutionary process involved with sporting teams.
For the moment, the environment to take on a rider like Porte just isn’t right but RIDE understands that the new contract term for the Tasmanian is for one season alone and then he’ll be back on the market. Ryan missed the chance to recruit the Aussie GC hope of the current generation for 2016 but he’s looking at the long term: 2017, when Porte will be 32 and have had the experience of racing for a team other than Sky, may be an option.
“At this stage we’re probably two years away,” Ryan said about the prospect of bringing in a rider to Orica-GreenEdge who is capable of achieving a good GC result in a race like the Tour. “We’ve got a couple of young kids that we’re bringing on but if Richie was to come in at this stage he needs a few more helpers around him and probably our team doesn’t suit him right at this stage.
“It’s time for him now to step out from Sky and have the opportunity of being the number-one GC rider in his next team.”
Ryan reiterated the fact that bringing on Porte was financially achievable; the team owner not only has a passion for cycling he also has the means to buy the right riders for the job. He also knows the sport well enough to understand that it would require a whole new structure for the team.
For now, Orica-GreenEdge is built around snaring opportunities that arise in the many other prize categories other than The Big One: the overall title of a race like the Tour de France.
There is versatile talent on the roster and with Adam and Simon Yates, Orica-GreenEdge has a formidable pair of climbers.
Simon was seen at the front of the peloton as it made its way up the Mûr-de-Bretagne on Saturday and yesterday Adam was in the yellow jersey’s group until the final kilometres of stage 10.
“Unfortunately,” says Ryan, “we haven’t got the depth now to be able to help these guys but they’re keen and I’m sure you’ll see a couple of competitive young men trying to have a crack at winning a stage.”
With the Yates brothers the team is getting a taste of another aspect of Grand Tour racing but they’re young and Ryan isn’t putting huge pressure on them in this race, the first Grand Tour they’re contesting together. If it did come to be that Porte came to the team after his next contract term, then the two Brits would be valuable allies… or perhaps, by then, they will even have matured into GC riders in their own right.
“Shayne Bannon certainly did talk to Richie last year to see where he was at,” Ryan explained on Tuesday morning. It didn’t get past initial discussions but at least there is some dialogue happening.
There are still 11 stages to go in the Tour of 2015 and we’ve seen a climbing display from Porte to suggest he’s on another level in the mountains to all but one man in the race – and that’s his current leader, Chris Froome.
Richie is well down the GC rankings but he’ll wear the polka-dot jersey for the race to Cauteret today. He’s not yet the King of the Mountains as he is actually ranked second to Froome in the climbing classification but at least he’ll have a taste of what it’s like to wear a prize jersey in the Tour.
The only other Australian to wear the polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France is Cadel Evans (in 2011 when he was also actually second in that classification) and he would go on to win the title that year. Richie isn’t going to win the Tour of 2015 but it’s looking likely that his current leader will.
Whether or not Porte will win a Grand Tour in what is already a most impressive career remains to be seen. It won’t happen this year but it may happen… and if it does next year, it won’t be for an Australian team. As for Richie joining OGE, it’s still an option but Ryan and his cohort are steadily building up to having the “right structure” in place for the time when a temporary king could in fact take over the throne in his own right.
– By Rob Arnold