When Richie Porte arrived at the Tour Down Under in January - three kilograms lighter than the year previous - it was evident beer and Christmas cake had not been part of his off-season diet. The press leaned in as the all-rounder outlined his physically apparent intent for the season, and referenced an increased motivation on the back of a poor 2014 campaign spoiled by confidence-battering illness.
Porte's appetite for success is as obvious now as it was then, so too his rigid approach in the lead-up to the Giro d'Italia where he is set to lead Team Sky's maglia rosa assault. The 30-year-old tipped the scales at just 59kg at Paris-Nice, which he won for a career second time last week, and rebuked reports published in the French publication L'Equipe that described Sky climbers as "anorexic".
"I thought my magic number was 60kg but I've been under that," Porte told Cycling Central of his ideal race weight.
"I mean, at the end of the day I'm a professional bike rider and there's this thing called being professional. People make a lot about weight and power to weight and all this sort of thing. It is hard to keep on your diet but I've been looking at my diet since September. The team has got a new nutritionist who has brought in a totally different way of thinking and, you know, it's not like we're starving ourselves. It's just eating the right food and the right amount, understanding protein and carbs and when and how to use it."
Porte has strictly managed all aspects in and around his training for the better part of six months. Even when he has had cause to celebrate this year Ã¢â¬â and he has, winning at minimum a stage in every race started Ã¢â¬â he's chosen to skip occasions, another show of intent in the build to the Grande Partenza. Sacrifice is a familiar concept for most pro cyclists but Porte's incredible level of physical and mental discipline this year begs the question, is it a sustainable lifestyle? Will the tightening elastic snap?
"Now I'm engaged [to Briton Gemma Barrett] and all that I just don't see it as a sacrifice, I'd rather stay at home and eat whereas last year it was, I was going out eating and having a few glasses of wine or whatever every night," Porte said.
"I see it as a sign also of me maturing I guess, but I'm thinking with a season like last year I really had to do this. I think a bit of adversity, you do realise what you've got and I'm all for making the most of my opportunities this year.
"I'm not overtraining or anything, I've been doing exactly what's on the program, religiously," he continued. "Instead of stopping in training, which I was notorious for doing, stopping in Italy every day for lunch, I just haven't been doing that and it's certainly helping."
Sky head of athlete performance Tim Kerrison has worked closely with Porte, issuing his training and on Friday joined the Tasmanian for a recon of the Giro's sole individual time trial in Treviso, Italy. Kerrison in January countered the concept of being too lean, emphasising the importance of consistency in diet, training and lifestyle, which his student seems to have mastered.
"This year less is more, it's that approach, especially leading into races like Catalunya and Paris-Nice," Porte said. "It was actually going into the races having tapered instead of doing sporadic six, seven hour days leading up, chasing my tail trying to make race weight and things like that."
The Australian national time trial champion is racing the Volta a Catalunya, which began yesterday, as part of a crack Sky line-up that includes 2013 Tour de France winner Chris Froome. Porte has managed allergies following Paris-Nice victory but was confident ahead of the race that may serve as a Giro litmus test with other pink jersey hopefuls in Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep), Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) as well as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) amongst those competing in Spain.
"I don't think you lose that much form in a week," Porte said. "I'd like to go there and test myself. This 'big four' that I've been hearing about all the time are going to be there. I'm looking forward to going there and testing myself against Alberto and these guys."