STORM BREWS IN QUIET PORTE
Champion cyclist hungry for success after enduring tough year
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,”
“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
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.”