“With Richie it's mental, it's not physical,” Team Sky boss David Brailsford attested, having worked closely with Porte before he transferred to BMC.
In professional cycling it’s the dogged minds that prevail and there are two schools of thought as to whether that is innate or can be learned.
Porte assisted Team Sky to three Tour de France titles, what champion Cadel Evans describes as a good apprenticeship, before he left the outfit to join BMC Racing this year for his own shot at the maillot jaune.
The undertaking has been compounded by speculation of whether he can put previous loyalty to Chris Froome (Sky) aside when crunch time arrives, or realistically make dual race governance with team-mate Tejay van Garderen work.
“I think it sits really well with Tejay and him that they’re in a position like this because I don’t think they’re characters that really want to be, ‘I’m the No.1 man and everyone is here to work for me,’” BMC ambassador and 2011 Tour de France winner Evans said.
“They’d rather have someone to ride alongside with and that’s going to work really well for both of them.”
Porte’s lung capacity was touted when he swam 72m underwater at a Saxo Bank training camp to earn the nickname ‘Fish’ as a rookie pro. A recent commercial gig with Speedo is a nice reminder of his prior spells as a triathlete and swimmer.
— Speedo (@speedo) July 12, 2016
Moving into a leadership role
Some observations of Porte's mental strength stem from his first Grand Tour title bid with Sky at the Giro d’Italia last year, where he unraveled in the second week, and perhaps a lack of ego and experience as a three-week race contender.
On top of being the “new kid” at BMC, Porte has had to bridge the significant gap from his previous position to Grand Tour challenger and shoulder all the associated commitments and pressures in a short space of time. In the 103rd edition of the Tour de France, he arguably faces more tests than his chief rivals.
“Richie was a big part of Team Sky and their success in the last couple of years in the Tour de France,” BMC sporting manager Allan Peiper said. “Coming over now to a different environment - he [was] basically the only new rider we had this year - it’s like being the new kid on the block. Then fitting into a new group with new equipment, a new way of working, of course those are important things. But at the same time, you know, riders quickly find out where their priorities lie.
“Richie had a couple of those opportunities in the Dauphine where he clearly [saw] that he is not on the [same] team with Froomey anymore and he won’t get any gifts from them. I think it’s really clear for him now.”
Peiper to a point agrees with Brailsford that Porte’s mentality can affect his performance.
“I’d say it’s a big factor with Richie, yes. Whether that’s a defining factor of if he can win a Grand Tour or not that’s another thing. But don’t forget we’ve only really known Richie for a little more than six months so we don’t have a lot of experience to fall back on there.
“He’s a champion, you can see that straight up.” - Allan Peiper
Leaving his comfort zone
The hand BMC has afforded to Porte isn’t lost on the Tasmanian, who has indirectly referred to his lucrative contract as a deadline to his Grand Tour ambition.
“I’m happy I did leave my comfort zone, which was Sky, and experience something else. I really hope come the Tour I can really challenge and have my opportunity because that’s what these next two years are, a massive opportunity for me,” he said in the lead-up to the Criterium du Dauphine.
A leap like this is indicative of mental resolve.
Porte’s drive is unharnessed but clear. Unlike Froome, he doesn’t have a poker face and you can see, especially in the immediate aftermath of a stage when emotions are high, how much he wants to deliver.
The 31-year-old also has that ‘tick’ common to some champions. Two of his close business associates have in the past amiably referred to him as a ‘little c—t’, which in a ruthless world can be a compliment.
“Richie does have that mongrel element in him. I used to think that smile on his face when he was attacking was a smile, but I really think it’s sort of a mongrel dog look.” - Allan Peiper.
Ahead of Mont Ventoux tonight, Porte sits two minutes and 22 seconds in arrears of current race leader Froome. The deficit is largely by way of an untimely mechanical he suffered in stage two.
Performance under pressure
When Porte lost more than a minute due to a puncture within the final 5km of that stage pundits speculated. Would another hard slap across the face from misfortune be enough to mentally throw him off course? A similar penalty appeared to at the 2015 Giro d'Italia.
Porte boarded the BMC bus for a few minutes after the “disaster” but soon emerged to speak to press when he could have understandably refused.
“He was realistic in what had just happened but he was very positive in moving forward,” Peiper said. “That was a great way to digest what had just happened and move on from it. I was very pleased with the response I saw him make in the press.”
Porte had then ‘supposed’ his general classification campaign was over and murmured about a stage. However, after climbing with the best through the Pyrenees last week he appears to have rediscovered total conviction.
Speaking on the first rest day of the Tour on Monday, Porte referred to the podium in Paris and where he could gain seconds in the two time trials and upcoming mountains.
“Richie is in a different environment now because he is the leader of the team. It’s a responsibility he hasn’t had before and we’ve put things in place to be able to support him and anything he is going through,” Peiper said.
“Those are two elements that haven’t been there before and hopefully it will pay off.”