“I feel like these three weeks are what I’ve been waiting 30 years for.”
To say Allan Peiper is excited about the prospect of what’s about to happen is an understatement but he expresses his emotions in an elegant manner. He is calm and shows respect to both the challenge that awaits and to Richie Porte, the rider prompting Peiper’s pulse to race.
The 58-year-old has experienced a lot in cycling but now believes he’s on the cusp of that golden moment for anyone associated with the sport: victory in the Tour de France.
It’s an old line now, we’re used to hearing it: Richie could win it this year. Then comes the misfortune, the off day, the crash – something to upset the plan. Peiper acknowledges all that but he’s still buoyed by the prospect of what’s about to happen.
“Richie has had a little bit of bad luck the last couple of Tours,” he tells me, “hopefully this one will present itself in a better way.”
It’s not just one-eyed optimism telling him that 2018 could be 'The Year'. All the signs are telling Peiper Porte can pull it off; a coup, something special – another Australian win.
“We’ve got a great team around him,” he continues. “We’ve looked at things from different perspectives compared to the last two years, and we’ve learned a lot from the last two years.”
SBS will broadcast the Tour de France live in HD from 7-29 July.
In 2016, that rotten puncture on stage two and then smashing into the back of a motorcycle on Mont Ventoux saw him finish fifth on GC. That’s bad luck. It happens, but until now he has suffered the kind of misfortune that others seem immune to.
It happened again last year - THAT descent of Mont du Chat. But another race awaits. The bad luck, he and his team hope, is behind them.
“Richie is in great shape,” Peiper tells me. Moments earlier Porte said much the same thing at the BMC press conference. “Part of the plan is for him to come later in form.
“Winning the Tour of Switzerland wasn’t a priority but he did win,” says Peiper, chuffed about the approach taken by the team only days after Porte became a father. “Mentally and physically he’s in a really great place and his team is around him.”
Porte knows his body and although he’s lean, he doubts whether he’s lighter than he’s ever been. “The goal was always to come here not on fumes.”
Weight is a consideration, it always is for the GC guys but there’s no point being so lean that it robs the rider of the resilience required to win.
“I think I’ve come into the Tour before on fumes or,” he says, after a moment to consider when he was racing at his lightest. “In the Giro of 2015, I was worrying too much about the weight.”
This time, Peiper believes, they’ve got the formula right. And listening to Porte – and looking at him – you get the feeling he believes it too.
Most pundits consider this year’s Tour to be a race of two parts: the opening stanza – up until “the Roubaix stage” that everyone’s talking about – then the second act in the mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees. Porte sees it that way too. “The first nine days are not really about where your weight is. It’s probably better to get through the race healthy.”
There’s been enough time for him to put the Team Sky experience behind him and accept the staff at BMC Racing are capable of managing his abilities in a way that will allow him to chase the title in 2018. This includes a recent change in coaches: he’s switched from the Brit, David Bailey, who he has lavished with praise through to the Tour de Suisse victory last month, to Marco Pinotti the former rider who is now part of the BMC staff.
The change of coaches was prompted largely by what seems could be the end of the BMC Racing team – but there weren’t any public displays of frustration. Bailey’s influence on Porte remains but allegiances had to be altered.
“The first nine days are not really about where your weight is. It’s probably better to get through the race healthy.”
Pinotti is a clever guy, but so too Peiper who is now itching to see what can be done between the start in the Vendée and the end in Paris on 29 July.
“I think of the past years' Tours,” says Peiper, “this year is probably a [course] that really suits Richie and his strengths with some short stages that are really hard and a hard final time trial – that really plays to his strengths.”
The last time the Tour began in the Vendée, BMC had a different Australian as its leader. Cadel Evans was never outside the top four on GC for three weeks. That’s how it was when an Australian won the Tour for the first time.
That was Cadel’s seventh Tour; 2018 will be Porte’s eighth start, but only his third as a team leader. Peiper says the lessons of the past will serve the 33-year-old Tasmanian well and he’s excited he gets the chance to be in the car for three weeks advising Porte alongside Fabio Baldato – and a host of others responsible for BMC's tactics employed at the Tour.
In the car, it’ll be a mix of opinions but it’s Peiper who will be doing the talking.
“It was a request of Richie’s for a couple of years already,” explains Peiper, “that I’d be at the Tour de France and a request of his that I’ll be on the radio. That is a language thing as well.
“Fabio [Baldato] is a great director as is Valerio Piva but my Australian [heritage] and English is probably quite bit clearer, so I’ll be in the first [team] car with Fabio. He is the first director,” says Peiper of the arrangement for guiding Porte at the Tour in 2018. “He’s driving the car, he makes final tactical decisions, but I will be speaking in the radio to the team for that language part as well and also for the familiarity part.
“Fabio and I worked together in [the Tour de] Romandie,” he says of the race in which Porte placed third on GC.
“We put this plan in place already last [European] winter and we used it effectively in the Tour de Suisse, where I was speaking in the radio and [Baldato] was driving the car. So we were bouncing off each other a lot and using other external forms of information to help us.
“I think, going into the Tour, we’ve got a good system and I’m really looking forward to it.”
We won’t hear much of what Peiper tells Porte on the road to Paris but rest assured, he has a key role in the outcome and if it transpires he reaches Paris in the yellow jersey, Peiper will have contributed to that success. If it happens, it’ll be the highlight of an amazing career in cycling.
“I started off racing when I was a kid in Australia as a 12-year-old in Yea, came to Europe when I was 17, turned pro when I was 23, retired when I was 32. I had a few years floating around.
“I came back in as a sports director in my 40s and moved up the ranks through different roles, from technical director to performance manager to sporting manager. And I think probably the time I’ve done in cycling has all led to this moment in my career – you know, going into the Tour de France, having a prolific role with an Australian who can do a great race, I think that’s the culmination of my career.”