STORM BREWS IN QUIET PORTE

Cham­pion cy­clist hun­gry for suc­cess af­ter en­dur­ing tough year

Mercury (Hobart) - - SPORT - SAM ED­MUND Cy­cling

TAS­MA­NIAN cy­clist Richie Porte is not let­ting bad luck at the Tour de France or a dis­ap­point­ing 2019 de­fine his ca­reer, fo­cus­ing only on stay­ing healthy and rid­ing his best when­ever he hits the as­phalt.

THIS time there was no Audi car loan, no back­log of ap­pear­ance re­quests and no lo­cal journos hunt­ing an in­ter­view. The postscript to Richie Porte’s dis­ap­point­ing 2019 sea­son has been an un­fa­mil­iar Launce­s­ton home­com­ing.

Not that Aus­tralia’s lead­ing Grand Tour cy­clist is com­plain­ing. The qui­etly-spo­ken Tas­ma­nian has al­ways been more com­fort­able out of the lime­light than in it, but he can’t help but chuckle at the dif­fer­ence a year makes.

At 34, Porte is well aware that a one-win sea­son in which he was plagued by a string of viruses, cul­mi­nat­ing in an anony­mous 11th place in the Tour de France, doesn’t scream ‘Look at me’.

In­deed, we find the diminu­tive climber at a fas­ci­nat­ing junc­ture in his ca­reer.

Here is an ath­lete who has won the big­gest week-long races in cy­cling. A two-time win­ner of Paris-Nice (2013, 2015), Porte has also saluted at Tour de Suisse (2018), Tour de Ro­mandie (2017), Volta Catalunya (2015), Volta ao Al­garve (2012) and Tour Down Un­der (2017).

They are wins that el­e­vated him to the pin­na­cle of one of the world’s most un­for­giv­ing sports.

Yet it’s the bad luck at the Tour de France in his prime years (2016-2018) that now threat­ens to be­come his legacy as the sun moves closer to set­ting on a ca­reer that started when he packed his bags for Italy at 21.

“It is a little bit frus­trat­ing that you’re go­ing to be re­mem­bered for the bad luck or things that went wrong for you, but it doesn’t mean you’re not go­ing to try or not go­ing to turn up at the Tour de

France in as good a shape as you can be be­cause any­thing can hap­pen,”

Porte said.

“I’ll be 35 next year. I’m not go­ing to lie, you look at our sport and for sure my best years prob­a­bly are past, but at the same time in train­ing I can still do the climbs at the same speed. If I can have a good run at the Tour I can still prob­a­bly beat the fifth I got in 2016.”

With one year to run on his con­tract with Amer­i­can team, Trek-Se­gafredo, Porte has re­turned from Monaco with wife Gemma and son Luca to pre­pare for an Aus­tralian sum­mer of cy­cling he hopes can lay the plat­form for a less-tur­bu­lent sea­son. “I didn’t have the sea­son I wanted, for a host of dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Hav­ing a new­born at home makes it hard to al­ways be healthy; that’s just part of it,” he said.

“You wouldn’t change that for any­thing be­cause it’s the best thing that ever hap­pened, but get­ting sick, com­ing back and get­ting sick again, it was not a great year. “There were things like go­ing to train in Utah and get­ting caught in the snow and hav­ing to do a lot of train­ing in­doors. “It was an in­ter­rupted sea­son. Even the Jayco

Her­ald Sun Tour, a race I al­ways wanted to win, you turn up sick.

“There was chang­ing teams as well. It’s never the eas­i­est thing, your first year in a team.

“It just wasn’t my year. I sat down with (Trek-Se­gafredo gen­eral man­ager) Luca Guer­cilena who said: ‘You ride your bike, train hard and do ev­ery­thing we ex­pect of you, you just kept get­ting sick – there’s noth­ing we can do about that.”

Which is why Porte didn’t touch his bike for three weeks when the sea­son ended, hol­i­day­ing in the UK and Hawaii in a des­per­ately-needed phys­i­cal and men­tal break.

“I needed to step away and not ride my bike and go into the off­sea­son not hav­ing crashed,” he said.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve done that, prob­a­bly not since 2015.”

Ital­ian great Vin­cenzo Nibali will be a new team­mate next year and is ex­pected to be flanked by the best sup­port the team can of­fer in May’s Giro d’Italia.

Where that leaves the line-up for Porte’s Tour de France as­sault a month later re­mains to be seen, although Bauke Mollema has con­firmed his at­ten­dance in

France.

Mor­tal­ity might be star­ing Porte in the face — “It does cross your mind” — but he re­mains op­ti­mistic that, should things fall his way, he can next year de­liver the sort of form that made him one of the world’s best climbers.

It starts at one of his favourite races, Jan­uary’s Tour Down Un­der, closely fol­lowed by the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.

“If I can get a good run at it, have a good off-sea­son and be healthy, then there’s no rea­son why I can’t still per­form,” Porte said.

“I know I’m in the twi­light, but I’m mo­ti­vated. You’re not the most nor­mal per­son if you want to race full gas up moun­tains and I’ve still got that de­sire and hunger.

“I do want to have a good year, not just for me, but my wife Gemma, who is an ab­so­lute cham­pion at home.

“She’s up ev­ery night with the little fella, she al­lows me to just ride my bike and it is a self­ish ex­is­tence, but it would be nice to at least do some­thing this year to pay her back as well.”

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