It’s been a while since we’ve seen Richie Porte race but he did finish fifth in the Tour de France and he has had an impact on the season. Furthermore, he’s always an interesting rider to speak to.
During the production of RIDE #73 (on sale around Australia on Monday 26 September) we spoke to Porte about his efforts in the Tour and his crash in the Olympic road race. The new issue is a magazine packed with content but some elements didn’t make the printed edition… and so we take the opportunity now, to present the interview.
Click the SoundCloud file or read the transcript below to find out what Richie Porte had to say…
Interview – Richie Porte, post Rio
RIDE: We’re talking to Richie Porte and it’s [early] September which means that its four weeks since he’s had a crash at Rio. I think a lot of people were watching and a lot of people were feeling a little bit queasy watching him on the side of the road. You’ve had a fair bit of time to reflect on that, how have you come up for air after ‘national service’, so to speak?
Richie Porte: “Obviously, it’s disappointing to go out like that in Rio. It was one of the bigger targets of the year so to end up crashing like that and then not doing the time trial was a pretty big disappointment. You know, I think I was lucky to come out of that crash with just the injuries that I did.”
You had a collarbone or shoulder break?
“Scapula – so shoulder. And then a rib as well that we didn’t find out until a couple of days after.”
And what do they do for that? Is there titanium in you because of it?
“No, there’s not actually anything you can do. Just time off the bike and rest. That’s the only thing you can do for it.”
And, mentally? How do you come out of that? You tend to manage disappointment fairly well – at least that’s how it comes across.
“Yeah. That’s just been my season so far this year. Disappointment and dealing with it.
“I had good form all through the year so it’s been a bit of a shame but hopefully that will change for next year.”
It seems odd for me to tell you this, but I’ve been going over the Tour de France now – in September – just trying to put it into context and how it relates to the greater part of the season. So, if it’s all right with you, I am going to talk about the thing that you’re probably sick to death of talking about. We’ll get to the Olympics after we review a bit of the Tour.
But the fact is that you would have been second, really, had it not been for the puncture. Do you see it that way?
“I mean, of course you sort of think about that. It’s easy to sit here now and say that I’d have been second but you don’t know what would have happened on the road.
“You look at little things like the puncture and also crashing on one of those last stages and then riding with a wheel which was rubbing on the frame even though I’d been to the mechanic in the car who said there was nothing wrong with my bike.
“Just things like that are disappointing and sort of a bitter pill to swallow I suppose. But, you can dwell on it as long as you like but it’s not really going to change anything. To end up fifth with what happened was a pretty good result anyhow.”
All these months after the fact, do you sort of replay little incidents? Or are you already looking towards 2017?
“You sort of think about Mont Ventoux – like, ‘What the hell does that happen there?’ ‘How does that happen in the biggest race in the world?’ Just things like that.
“Of course you’re going to think about it.
“I start riding my bike in November every day thinking about the Tour de France and then to go there and just have mishap after mishap was quite hard and I think it’s going to leave me a little bit more hungry for next year.”
Let’s talk about that crash. I mean, you may not have wanted to watch it again but a lot of people would have had it as a GIF replaying over and over on their computer or telephones. It was just quite a remarkable moment in cycling really. Whether you like it or not, it will go down in the annals of history.
“Yeah, and obviously Mont Ventoux is a special stage and with Bastille Day, it was obviously quite a big day also with those crosswinds at the bottom and things like that.
“I think we were in a good position to take good time back.
“It’s a shame that we weren’t going to the very top because I think if we went to the very top, the strongest riders would have taken good time.
“But then, when we got to four or five kilometres to go and there’s barriers there… but there was just people everywhere. It did feel like something was going to happen.
“The crowd were just so close – which they always are – but it was just like nothing I’ve experience, that day.
“It was a carnival atmosphere which is fantastic but I don’t think it’s the best thing for cycling; to be riding up there with that many people, that close and so many motorbikes also in front of us. I think something has to be done.”
It’s a very difficult one to manage and I want to ask you about what happened later that day and how it affected you and your mood. Once you heard about the truck in Nice, how did you think about bike racing again? I know you have to get on with life, but what did you do personally to adjust?
“Obviously we live in Monaco which is not so far from Nice so we do spend a bit of time down there.
“Paris-Nice finished on the Promenade des Anglais and starts sometimes there as well. So to have something so horrible, so close that puts cycling into perspective.
“I suppose having that incident [the moto crash] was everything but then when that happened in Nice it did put into perspective what we were dealing with [at the Tour]: it’s not the end of the world.”
A bike race is a bike race and we do say to that to each other quite often… I think most people are aware of it. I wonder if it took away the impetus of the racing in those last, let’s say, 10 days.
“I think so. I guess for us in the race, the race is the race and when you get on the bike in the morning and when you finish, your mind’s there. But then, around the race, yeah it was a little bit different.
“As we said before, things were put into perspective for sure.”
Was there any other moment during the Tour when you’re thinking, ‘I can see that Chris is vulnerable.’ ‘I can try and make up a bit of time here…’ ‘I can do something there’ – or did you sort of feel like you were racing those other guys who were within a minute of each other, vying for second place?
“Well, I think with Chris, you see in the time trials that he is head and shoulders… he’s strong – he’s super strong! But then, with that team behind him, you know: if Wout Poels had a bad day then Sergio Henao had a good day – just things like that – or Geraint Thomas is just always good.
“But it was hard racing against such a strong Team Sky. We always knew that coming in that it’s probably the strongest team, on paper, to ever ride a Grand Tour.
“I was not really thinking about that, to be honest.
“When I attacked, I was just thinking about trying to crack the guys in closer distance to me.”
After the year that you’ve had, are you going to come back to racing in 2017 and still have that hunger, that desire, that ‘f— the world’ attitude; that I want to win this race kind of approach? Or, how do you imagine you’ll be?
“To be honest with you, I think that this season has been disappointing in places but I’d prefer the season I had last year. To actually go and win Paris-Nice and Catalunya, these sort of races – I think that put me in a better place, confidence-wise than this year, starting steady and being thereabouts in those races.
“I think next year I’d like to target races.
“I start in Tour Down Under so I’d like to go there and have a good show.
“I think next year the Tour Down Under suits me more than it has over the past few years.
“Then I’d love to go back and win Paris-Nice or Catalunya or Romandie, one of those races before the Tour.
“I think this year has definitely shown me that it was the right choice to move to BMC – a team which is going to back me fully next year for the Tour and I’ll take my own opportunities because there are not that many guys who can out climb me and out time trial me. If I have a good team behind me, I can be thereabouts for the Tour for sure.”
After stage 19, I was having an analysis of the race with François Thomazeau and we actually came to the conclusion that it was probably the one weather that was the biggest rival for everyone this year. We had a strange cool start, a bit of heat in the Pyrenees, then that hellacious wind for a few days and then the rain in the closing week which probably spoilt that penultimate day.
Would you make a similar appraisal?
“I’d agree. When it was so hot at the start, I actually like that. Even though I’m from Tassie where it doesn’t get terribly hot, I’ve lived over here in Monaco for long enough that when it is super hot, I do enjoy it. I was quite liking that heat.
“But then we got that rain, especially in the Alps where we got the rain – and it hadn’t rained for so long. The roads were just deadly slippery.
“Things like that, they definitely changed the outcome of the race.
“I think it’s the Tour.
“At the Tour, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
“Two years ago we started in the UK and it was hot and then we went to Belgium and France and we got rained on, so you can’t change things like that.
“And also getting sick, as well. If you go to the Tour and don’t get sick then I think you’re going to be set-up for a good race.”
It’s silly to talk about the Tour in such detail in September, but is there something that you really want to add to the discussion about that race that I should reference…?
It’s difficult for me to talk about so I can’t imagine how sick to death of it you are…
“To be honest, it’s not so bad. I haven’t really had to talk so much about it.
“After the Tour, I went into ‘Olympic mode’ and after Olympic mode I went into ‘recovery mode’…”
We need to talk about the Rio race… I know you didn’t see the finale of it but up until the point that you crashed it was already a bit of everything. From there on in, it got even more exciting. Did you get to see any of the replays?
“I didn’t. I didn’t see anything which is a little bit of a shame because, obviously, with my team-mate Greg Van Avermaet winning – or my trade team-mate – it was an awesome outcome.
“If it wasn’t an Aussie to win, then you want your team-mate from BMC to win so for Greg to win and cap-off such an awesome season, that was great.”
Can you offer a couple of comments about Greg as a person? We sort of get to know him a little bit by virtue of his success on a bike but when you’re in the team and at the team dinner, what kind of character is he?
“I think Greg’s the one who’s always upbeat and happy. He’s just a down to earth guy.
“He’s always in a good mood. He’s always smiling – that’s just Greg.
“I was told when I was joining the team that ‘Greg Van Avermaet’s one of the nicest blokes going around…’ and it’s true. He really is a top fella and he’s had such an awesome season; even though he crashed out of the Classics when he was in the form of his life.
“I look to that and think maybe there is a silver lining to all my bad luck.”
The success [Van Avermaet] achieved at the Tour can’t be ignored either. A stage win, a couple of days in yellow is pretty formidable…
“That’s the thing, isn’t it? When Greg went up the road and won stage – four or five… one of those. We did the recon and that was a hard, hard stage.
“For Greg to just go and unload everyone and take such good time like that was incredible.
“We were criticised for not riding, but then Greg goes in the breakaway and takes more time. I think that’s just Greg.
“He’s got a fair set of swingers on him, he’s always up for a bit of an adventure and to wear the jersey for as many days as he did on such a hard stage in the Tour was really incredible.”
Going back to Rio, the course seemed to have a little bit of everything. Do you think that the descent that ultimately claimed your scalp was a little bit too extreme?
“To be honest, with hindsight: yeah.
“I think if there’s hay bales covering up culverts and things like that, it’s probably not really on.
“I think, obviously the course was quite spectacular to look at on television but, you know, cobbles and stuff like that… yeah, fair enough. But then with the descent, it was a little bit too much.
“At the end of the day it’s the way us riders take those descents a little bit, too.
“When I came down around that corner and there was a guy on the ground in front of me, I had nowhere to go other than up over a gutter which was probably a foot high or so.
“Is that a little bit too much? I think it is.”
Another topic of Rio is a fellow Tasmanian who you got to race with. Can you talk a little bit about Scott Bowden?
“Scott is such a good sport – he’s a good kid. I think he’s probably got more of a future on the road [than as a mountain biker].
“I think we went in there not really knowing Scott – even though I’m from Tassie.
“I’d met him a couple of times but then Bradley McGee said to me: ‘He’s a great kid, you’re all going to like him.’ And in just a couple of days he fitted into the group so well.
“He’s just a typical Tasmanian kid, I guess – a top bloke.”
And in the race, he was a useful domestique?
“Yeah he was. On those cobbles, I sort of dropped my chain a couple of times which wasn’t great. He was always there and he pulled me back a couple of times when it wasn’t easy to do so.
“He’s not really raced at the top level in road cycling but he really impressed me with just being there and being able to pull with someone like Geraint Thomas – who also had bad luck – to come back.”
…In summary about the Olympics, a lot of people observe from afar and sort of have lots of opinion because it’s sort of foisted upon us for a couple of weeks, at least. Being there and being part of the whole shebang – you’ve done basically every big event that there is in cycling – how do you put it into perspective…? What’s the Olympic experience like?
“There was a fantastic buzz around the race. It was different to what it is at the Tour or the worlds – so I quite enjoyed it. But now, how it all worked out, looking to Tokyo I hope it’s a hilly course so I can be back there and try and finish it off.”
It’s interesting to hear you talking about Tokyo and still feeling and just having that general long-term motivation. Sometimes I wonder if – and it sounds like a rude comment – I wonder if you’re really committed to it for the long haul. Does that sound strange, me saying that?
“Yeah. That’s the thing, being every four years it’s like four Tours before the Olympics!
“Of course that’s what takes precedence: the Tour or the Giro or whatever… but if it is a hilly course, or one that suits you, I think for sure that’s something that motivates you for those four years.”
…Do you think that you have an influence on, let’s say, the ordinary person who is watching? Do you think that what you’re doing on the television is inspiring them to ride?
“I don’t know. I hope so.
“For me, sure, the Robbie McEwens, the Bradley McGees, the Cadel Evans… and the guys around that era, for sure that was a motivating factor for me. You know, sitting up to all hours sitting up watching Robbie McEwen battling Baden Cooke for the green jersey…
“I hope that we do in some way inspire the next generation.
“I think it’s exciting for Aussies that we’ve got a good crop coming through.
“You hope that, in 10 years time, there are kids that were watching you racing and cleaning up at the Tour. I think, for us, even the fact that you stay up watching the Tour at all sorts of hours, that shows our commitment to cycling. Cycling is getting so big in Australia.”
It still feels like it’s growing to you?
“Yeah, for sure. You know, at the Tour there are more Aussies there.
“And the Tour Down Under: when you go to Adelaide at the start of the year – like the Willunga stage for instance, those fans there, that’s unparalleled really.
“In some of the bigger races – even in Europe – you don’t get crowds like that.
For sure, cycling in Australia is kicking massive goals.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold