In a single season at BMC, Richie Porte has marked an unpretentious maturation that shows both on his results sheet and in the columns now backing rather than questioning his ability to win the yellow jersey.
No-one has ever doubted Porte’s physical ability to triumph in a Grand Tour. However, his mental game was a sticking point some pundits referred to when arguing the 32-year-old didn’t have a Tour de France victory in him.
Porte’s former Team Sky principal David Brailsford once said “with Richie it’s mental, it’s not physical” and the Australian’s preference to race on raw feel has until now led to either big wins or catastrophic losses.
Porte gives Brailsford’s observation half-hearted consideration while discounting Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ philosophy he in a long tenure with the British team, which he still speaks favourably about, had subscribed.
“Physically, yes, I’ve got a talent, but I think that’s easy to say that for him from the outside where they just, he is just looking at numbers,” Porte says. “If you’re aiming for the threshold effort of 400 watts, a power meter doesn’t just sit at 400 watts, it’s kind of all over the place. I pedal hard really. If I simplify my efforts, it’s like I just must hurt myself. I’m much better at that.
“The thing with me is, if there is a bit of a scrap I don’t really mind being in there provided I’m in form,” he continues.
“But I also think my ‘Septemberitis’ is probably worse than most other people in the peloton. I’m either all in or there’s just no point the team really sending me to races.”
That argument is now defunct and the stories being written in Australia and abroad are that Porte is this season a genuine Tour de France contender, a view also reverberated in the WorldTour peloton.
“He’s one of, maybe the strongest climber in the peloton so for sure he will probably win the Tour one day due to this excellent skill,” 2016 Tour runner-up Romain Bardet says. “For me, he’s the one to watch.”
Porte personally has considered himself a Grand Tour contender since the 2010 Giro d’Italia in which he finished seventh overall as a rookie pro. He has in the past fallen back on self-deprecating humour or sarcasm to avoid brash or self-supportive statements in the media. However, the proud Tasmanian is necessarily turning that around, consuming the champion Kool-Aid with more confident assertions about himself, BMC head of performance David Bailey and his teammates.
“I still feel like I’ve not quite proven my abilities over the three weeks. I think last year in the Tour I might have gone closer had I have not, you know, found a motorbike to crash into, some of the stuff that happened along the way,” Porte says. “That’s why I came to BMC to take my chance. I’ve always been up there in the mountains and time trials so I do believe that I can be a contender in July. I’ve always at the back of mind knew that when all things go to plan I can be a genuine contender.”
Speaking during a 30-minute phone interview from Paris-Nice, in which he turned around a “bitterly disappointing” start with an emphatic stage win, Porte takes on every question thrown at him without antic or complaint.
He is an international athlete that has resided in Monaco for seven years and has a salary and CV that could permit a different attitude. He still readily recalls prejudice from mainland Australians that mock his island state as being inbred, and speaks with an almost sponsored-like revere about his birthplace.
“It was a privilege really,” Porte says of his upbringing. “We grew up on a river and you spent most of your afterschool hours down there with the dog. And then we had a house down on the sea as well on the east coast of Tassie. I love it. I think for me now being married to a Brit I crave that going to Manchester for a week or two just because I found that’s so much like [it].”
Porte was raised by his father, an electrician, and his mother, a legal scribe. Neither have cycling backgrounds.
“Mum and Dad swim every day and Dad’s a surfer, we grew up surfing. For me I think that’s the worst thing in the world,” he says.
The Tour Down Under champion refers to his family when asked to comment on tongue-in-cheek descriptions teammate turned Tour de France rival Chris Froome and his long-time manager have made of him as a “little c—t”.
“I think you have to be, coming from Tassie and then being a foot shorter. Whenever I must go and do things with kid cyclists they’re all taller than me. You know, 12-year-old kids,” he muses before making more serious observations.
“You do have to have a bit more of that fight in you, that fire to get anywhere,” he says.
“To some of the people that don’t know me they might get the wrong impression … I didn’t say I’m a bad person.
“I’m the son of a tradesman and I think I’m still pretty level headed. I never imagined that I’d be getting paid the sums I am to ride my bike and I never forget that. I’ve still got that sort of working class background.”
Porte in a single season with BMC has become a face of the U.S registered squad and effectively resigned its former Grand Tour frontman Tejay van Garderen to the Giro d’Italia. In a departing speech at Sky in 2015 he raised a flute, stating he may be back if his all-in gamble with the outfit that delivered Cadel Evans to long-awaited Tour glory didn’t pay.
“I have a lot of good friends there [at Sky] and I genuinely believe in that team. It kind of hurts me to see all the crap,” Porte says about the beleaguered outfit’s Jiffy bag scandal still being played out.
“I’m happy in BMC. They’ve been incredibly supportive of me and it just feels like my team.
“I had such a brilliant four years in Team Sky and I’ve got lifelong friends; I even met my wife there. Certainly, when I retire and look back at my career they will be some of the best days of my life, but I don’t think I would ever go back now. I think that door is closed.”
Porte has become the unassuming face of Australian cycling, his image all over in the lead-up to major races including Down Under and the Tour de France. More than that, he is now well-placed to become Australia’s second ever Tour champion, behind Evans. Now is his time and Porte is better positioned than ever, channelling his wild ambition, which has been both a source of success and hindrance, more harmoniously than before while still staving a “normal life”, considering dogs and children soon.
“Look, everyday some thoughts towards July do come into my head. You could not do anything for the next few months but then if you have a good Tour then it’s still seen as a successful season,” he says.