The Australian selection for the world championships are due to be announced today and Richie Porte believes he’s the right man to lead the charge for the elite men in Innsbruck at the end of September.
Three weeks after crashing out of the Tour de France – again during the ninth stage – Richie Porte’s BMC Racing Team arranged a series of teleconference interviews. The aim was to chat with the rider who was the designated leader for the US-registered team for plan A of 2018, the Tour, and find out how things are going for plans B and C, the Vuelta a España (25 August-16 September) and the world championships in Innsbruck, Austria (TT, 26 September; road race 30 September).
First up was a trio of Australian journalists, including myself, in a discussion that lasted half an hour. In the background, every now and then, we could hear Porte’s wife, Gemma, and their baby boy, Luca, but Richie managed to hold focus on the discussion and answer questions about his accident, his ambitions for the rest of the season, his thoughts on crowd behaviour at the Tour (and in other races), what he thought of Geraint Thomas’ win in July, and his hopes for a rainbow jersey at the end of September.
There was a quick reference to what team he would race for after 2018, but only in question form. The rider himself brushed that off with the expected reply: “No comment.”
He was expecting it and laughed when Rupert Guinness made his query, then Porte added, “I can’t say just yet. You’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer.”
What is clear is that the Australian influence at Continuum Sports, the holding company for what has been BMC Racing, is diminishing. Rohan Dennis has already confirmed his move to Bahrain-Merida, Allan Peiper is still in negotiations about his management position, and Porte has been linked with another US-registered team… but he wouldn’t expand on rumours that have been circulating for several months.
His next major race rendezvous is the Vuelta but during the discussion, Porte made it clear that the Grand Tour was a test, a chance for him to see if he can finish a three-week race (which he hasn’t done since the Tour de France of 2016), and that the worlds is what he seemed to be most focussed on.
“I want to go to the Vuelta and finish a Grand Tour because it’s been a long time since I’ve done that and I think we’ll just see how it comes out,” he said on 6 August, with the start of the Vuelta a little less than three weeks away. “But it’s easy to be motivated for a race like the worlds, go and race with your fellow countrymen.”
Porte at the team presentation of the Tour de France in July (above).
Photos: Jean-Pierre Ronco
That statement was made on a Monday, the preceding Friday was when he first got back on the road with his bike. There had been some early sessions on the home trainer but it’s not his preferred riding option and, he admits, he went against the BMC Racing team doctor’s advice and started climbing the hills around Monaco earlier than was recommended.
“The trainer was absolutely terrible,” he said of his riding options. “When it’s sunny outside and you sit on a home trainer it’s not much fun.
“But I’ve been back on the road now for a while.” Three days is all, and so he paused and asked himself a little question and duly answered it: “Well, a while?” he laughed, “I was on the road before the doctors cleared me to because I just had to for my head.”
His collarbone break was nothing like the injury sustained in the crash during stage of the 2017 Tour but, when racing stops for the year and his tenure with BMC Racing comes to an end, he’s likely to be operated on to ensure that there are no long-term ramifications from the fracture he copped early in stage nine at the 2018 Tour.
“The risk was always that if I crashed I’d make it worse,” he said about riding earlier than the doctor recommended, “but that’s how it’s going to be anyhow; if I crash at the Vuelta, or something like that: the season is probably over and I’m probably going to have surgery on it. But that’s one of the risks you have to take, I guess.”
In Cholet, after the team time trial at the 2018 Tour, Richie Porte became a stage winner at Le Tour (above).
Porte: the leader for Innsbruck
Nine days after the teleconference, Cycling Australia is expected to announce its line-ups for the world championships and not surprisingly – even before Richie Porte was back racing again – the 33-year-old Tasmanian will be listed as leader for the elite men team.
(RIDE Media also understands that there will be a full contingent of seven women for the road race, not the abbreviated line-up that was originally named for the worlds in 2017.)
All going well at the Vuelta, Porte will bring with him a strong support cast to Innsbruck and he’s optimistic about his chances.
“Two days after I got home from the crash I got a text off Brad [McGee] to say, ‘Commiserations, but now let’s have a go at worlds…’ which was good for me to have that little bit of motivation in the back of the mind.
“I think it’s a climbers’ course this year – which doesn’t mean Sagan can’t morph into a climber and go for it, I guess – but it’s a great silver-lining: go to the Vuelta and prepare for a-once-in-a-career worlds, really. Like they don’t come around like this very often.”
Since he burst onto the elite scene in 2010, Porte has become one of the foremost GC riders of his generation. He is superb when it comes to one-week contests and most capable in the Grand Tours (even if luck doesn’t always go his way) but one-day races are something of an anomaly for guys like him.
Of the 30 pro wins in his career, all have been in multi-day races: either stage wins (22) or overall titles (8). The course in Innsbruck, however, suits his characteristics and its logical that Australia race for a rider of Porte’s proven capabilities.
It’s a similar scenario to Mendrisio in 2009 when Cadel Evans, fresh off a lacklustre ride in the Tour de France (28th) and a rebound into form at La Vuelta (3rd), pulled off a coup and took the rainbow jersey in the elite men’s race. That too was on a climber’s course and the GC specialist turned himself into a one-day race winner.
“I saw it popped up on a Zwift ad the other day,” said Porte when asked if he knew the details of the course in Innsbruck. “It almost enticed me to get onto Zwift,” he laughed, before explaining that the temptation didn’t result in a virtual loop of the Austrian roads.
“I’ve obviously seen what’s been written and stuff like that, but I’d say I know it’s up around the 5,000 metres of climbing which is almost an average training day around here, around Monaco, so I think I’ll get through the Vuelta and then we’ll go and have a look at the course after the Vuelta.”
Cycling Australia will soon announce its selection for the 2018 worlds and Porte is expected to be the leader of the elite men’s road race team… but he is also likely to do the TT in Innsbruck.
Photo: Rob Arnold
Nominations for worlds support
A little over a fortnight from the day Australia announces its complete rosters for the worlds, Richie Porte admitted that he had spoken about his possible support cast with national selector, Brad McGee. Some of the names are obvious and we wait to see exactly who makes the cut.
“We touched on it briefly,” he said about the discussions about the worlds with McGee. “But you know how it is, the old ‘September-itis’ kicks in for a lot of guys, doesn’t it? Well, it probably kicks in in August actually.”
End-of-season apathy can strike some but when there’s the prospect of racing for a legitimate title contender, should Porte survive the Vuelta, is going to provide strong motivation for many Aussies. During our discussion, the designated leader himself offered a few suggestions for who he’d like alongside him.
“To fill that team with climber types will be hard,” he said, “but you look at guys like Damien Howson and Robert Power.
“Ben O’Connor has been awesome and he obviously, unfortunately, crashed out of the Giro so hopefully he’s motivated for it as well.
“Simon Clarke is always a good guy for that sort of thing so I think it’s going to be a pretty strong team.”
Porte waits for his podium time at the Tour (above).
For full team details, stay tuned to Cycling Australia’s homepage and social media channels.
Worlds a priority over Vuelta…
When there’s talk of Grand Tours it’s largely based around how the Giro is super-hard and it falls early on the calendar so there’s a lot of anticipation. The Tour is the big one that even those who don’t follow cycling regularly tend to tune into and, with that, comes the associated stress. But the Vuelta, I suggested to Porte, comes along during that odd time in the season when fatigue is starting to become a factor – for both the riders and the fans – and it’s almost like the also-ran. Without meaning to un-glamorise it, I wondered if Porte feels like the Vuelta has got sufficient hype around it?
“Totally. It definitely is a big race,” he said, adding that it is also fairly mellow compared with the Giro and the Tour. “That’s the Spanish way, isn’t it?
“It’s probably the most relaxed of the three Grand Tours. It’s easy to say that now but I’m guessing, when you’re there, it doesn’t feel like that.
“It’s easily the least hyped of them all but I think that’s good for me just to go in there and enjoy the experience. it’s less stress going into that than the Tour, put it that way.”
The injuries are healing. The motivation is there. The team is about to be named and Richie seems to be ready for the challenges that are approaching fast.
Still, there’s been another accident, another fracture, since he was last at the peak of his form. Does that influence the way he approaches his job? How are the sensations on the road? Does he feel as though he’s more hesitant after having ended the Tour with another accident? In other words, when he’s back in the bunch is it just going to be business as usual?
“Hopefully, yeah. It’s sort of just under three weeks until the Vuelta so hopefully it’s business as usual. But I think when you have a crash like that and you break bones, your body – or your mind – kind of compensates there, doesn’t it? You’re always a little bit more careful.”
But he’s a racer and he’s the right pick to be Australia’s team leader at the end of September.
“It’s one of those things; a bike rider knows when you’ve done a bone,” he said of the moment his campaign for the yellow jersey came to an end. “I mean, it wasn’t like the crash I had last year – the pain – but you can feel that deep, burning pain inside in the shoulder.
“When the doctor told me that I needed to get in the ambulance, then it kind of hit me. All the preparation, time away from the newborn baby and all that sort of stuff was, again, for nothing.”
He’d spoken about the crash only days after it happened and the frustration was plain for everyone to see in his video interviews published while the Tour was unfolding. Early in August after a few days back on the road, however, he admitted that it was more emotionally taxing than physically painful.
“It was probably easier to recover physically than what it was emotionally.”
Later he reiterated the toll the accident took on him. “The disappointment from a professional point of view was absolutely terrible,” he said. “I’m not going to lie: I was in a pretty dark place for quite a while after – and probably still am. It’s still a hard one to take, probably the hardest, most disappointing one to take for me so far in my career.”
Despite the frustration, however, he is buoyed with enthusiasm for what’s yet to come in 2018 – ie. the Vuelta and then the quest for the rainbow jersey in Austria. Before those professional objectives, he is grateful for the time he got to spend with Luca in July when he otherwise would have been racing his bike.
“I think my saving grace was having new baby at home, that really kind of softened the blow.”
– By Rob Arnold