A close-up look at the Australian's purpose-built ride
Australian's 2015 Tinkoff-Saxo team bike
Winner of the 2015 Tour Down Under
New and old kicks and lids seen at WorldTour race
Good signs from two weeks traning on Tenerife
I'm back. Well, from training in Tenerife. My racing comeback is still a few days off but it's good to be home after two weeks on the volcano with the team. Back to greenery, friendly people, and a bit more atmosphere in general is always good for the spirit and I'm looking forward to getting back into racing with Liège-Bastogne-Liège this Sunday and then Romandie next week.
The volcano is an interesting place though. It's not really my cup of tea, it's so isolated but I've certainly noticed that more and more teams are using it as a training base these days. We had to change hotels half-way through our stay because another squad had booked ours out. I was talking to Froomie about it and he pointed out that it had turned into just another one of those race hotels and with Belkin, Astana, Cannondale and Katusha all up there at the same time, it's hard to argue.
I'm hoping that this block of training will set me up nicely for the next couple of weeks. Froomie too, who is starting to fly again in training.
I want to talk a bit about the Giro and what happened. Look, first off it was a really tough call but at the end of the day, I decided that I just couldn't go there and race. It was my decision, not the team's and they've been really supportive and didn't put any pressure on my whatsoever.
I would have loved to have raced the Giro but at Tirreno I went from being up there on one mountain stage, and in quite good condition, to being knelt over a toilet in my time trial position due to gastroenteritis. I thought that I was okay for Catalunya but I just had nothing in the tank and when you know, you just know.
In the last few days, of course I've thought about changing track and going to the Giro. You're out training, you're feeling good and you can't help but think to yourself 'yeah I can still do this' but a month without racing just means it's not realistic. A month without racing feels like an eternity and no matter how much work you do at altitude, it's still not the same.
The reality is that you can't lose three weeks of training so close to a grand tour.
Now I'll go to the Tour, where we'll have a stronger team and a clear set of aims. We have the defending champion, and the best rider in the peloton in Froomie and I'm looking forward to racing alongside him.
So it's Liege next and then Romandie. I did Romandie last year and my form at that time was on a bit of a downward spiral but I'm coming into that race quite fresh.
I'm itching to get out there and back into the swing of things because everyone seems to be doubting our team right now but we're very motivated. Other teams are looking at how we train and that's good for cycling as a whole as it shows evolution but at the same time you can't help but think that we've been a bit unlucky. We've had crashes for Thomas, I've been ill and Froome has missed racing too. But the season is far from over and we just need to start wining and then things will start turning around.
A last minute swap swaps Porte from Paris-Nice to Tirreno-Adriatico
Well that's my final training ride of week in the bag and now it's time to pack and head out the door for my next race. Up next is Tirreno-Adriatico, which starts on Wednesday with a 16.9 kilometre time trial between Donoratico and San Vincenzo.
It's a race I've never done before, and at 29, I'm excited to be going there to race for the win. No doubt it will be tough one, with a stellar field, and tough parcour but I'm confident that I can challenge for top honours.
I know there's been a lot of discussion about shifting from Paris-Nice to Tirreno but when it was confirmed that Froomie couldn't ride the race due to a small back injury the team and I had a chat about whether I should swap programmes and head to Italy.
Straight away I was interested in the idea and there were a number of reasons. Firstly, Paris-Nice isn't really an ideal race for me this year and I know that leaves ASO a bit disappointed but from a purely performance point of view, if Chris isn't going to do Tirreno, then that's a much more favourable race for me. The new-look Paris-Nice that ASO has designed for this year looks exciting and I can understand their desire to improve the format but it's a case of horses for courses. If the route had been the same as last year I'm sure I would be racing there right now.
I've also done Paris-Nice a few times now and to be honest, I've wanted to look at Tirreno for a while now. I've read Christian Prudhomme's comments and I've taken them on board. And look, he's a great man, and he's in charge of great races and in no way was this decision meant to be seen as disrespecting him or ASO. As it stands we have Geraint [Thomas] at the race and I think he has a great chance of making the podium. He and the team are racing well there and Geraint has already picked up some time bonuses on the first stage. If he can keep out of trouble, follow the right moves, then I'm sure he can make an impression. He avoided the first split on stage 1 so he's well in contention, so good luck to him and the rest of the boys.
Back to Tirreno, and the race should also offer me with the chance to test myself on Italian roads and of course see a number of the riders I'll be competing against in May at the Giro d'Italia. I'm here to win though and I think I've got chances with the team time trial, the individual test and then the main uphill finish.
In general, my form is ticking along nicely at the moment. I wasn't 100 per cent at Tour Down Under in January but I managed to win the Willunga stage, which I'm really proud of, and I showed off the team jersey as best I could. A podium spot was nice reward for the winter training I'd put in and a good base to start the year on.
From there I came back to Europe for the first time this year and raced Ruta del Sol. That's a brutal race, really tough, but I picked up second overall and at this stage in the season I have to be happy with the way things are going.
Obviously my biggest goal for the season is a couple of months away with the Giro d'Italia. Each race is a stepping stone towards the start in Belfast and Tirreno is the next step on that path.
Looking ahead to the first WorldTour race of 2014
After an exciting few days at the Australian national championships I’m already preparing for my next goal at the Tour Down Under here in Adelaide. As an Australian it’s a special race and after nationals I know that my form is moving in the right direction.
The national road race, as I’m sure you were aware, was a huge deal this time around, with massive crowds and an impressive turn out in terms of the field.
It was on the same course as always, but for guys like myself, Cadel Evans and Steele Van Hoff, the race really depended on how Drapac and Orica GreenEdge wanted to play things out. They had the numbers up there and GreenEdge backed Gerrans, who in the end was the best rider on the day. I must add that I had Nathan Earle with me and he was pretty impressive, especially as it was his first race in a Sky jersey.
Coming into the finale though I knew I wasn’t going to win a sprint, and the goal centred around finishing on the podium and making sure I came home with the best result possible. All things considered I’m content with third.
But overall I’ve had a good December, first being at the Sky training camp in Mallorca and then coming back to Tasmania for three solid weeks of putting in the long hours and tallying up the kilometers in the saddle. My weight isn’t bad for this time of year and this is probably the best place to be for training in terms of the weather as well.
As for the Tour Down Under, it’s definitely an objective. We’ve got myself and Geraint Thomas looking at GC, and at the end of the day this is a WorldTour race and despite what anyone says every event at this level has to be taken seriously.
The team haven’t put pressure on me and I saw at nationals just how strong Gerrans was, so I’d agree with most people in that he’s one of the main favourites. And being honest Cam Meyer was probably stronger than Cadel and myself as well on that final climb at nationals, too. So that puts the pressure on GreenEdge more than anything because with it being their home race they will really want to win it. I’m an Australian so of course it’s my home race and there’s an added incentive to go for the win, but I don’t feel the pressure from it being on a British team.
I also have to look at the bigger picture. It would be great to come here and get a result, but it’s a long hard season with many more objectives and races to come. I’m working hard towards the Giro d’Italia and as everyone is aware, that’s going to form a major part of my season, or at least I hope it will.
What’s good to see is that fans and the media in Australia are increasingly looking beyond the national scene and beyond the Tour de France and realising that there are more major races out there.
The Giro d’Italia itself is going to be huge challenge and come to think of it I’ll be going up against two of the podium places from last year’s Tour in Joaquim Rodriguez and Nairo Quintana, so I’m treating the challenge and the competition with the utmost respect. I’m not losing sleep over it though because there’s a long way to go until May.
Right now the biggest challenge, as I sit here in my hotel room in Adelaide, is putting up with Chris Sutton as he plays games on his iPad with the sound turned up full volume. If I can put up with that noise and his fondness for Justin Bieber I think I can deal with anything out on the road.
In all seriousness I know that Chris will be fully focussed in the coming days with the Tour Down Under and the one day race beforehand. He won that event back in 2010 and come to think of it that was Sky’s first ever win, so it’s a race that means a lot to us. I know sometimes we - Team Sky - can be seen as a team wrapped up in just a few major races on the calendar but if you talk to us riders you’ll find out that there are quite a few so called ‘small events’ dotted in the calendar that mean a lot to us on a sentimental and personal level.
So if you’re heading out to watch us at the Tour Down Under thanks for your support and if you see me as I head towards the Giro in May, give us a cheer too.
Getting the job done with a week to go
Another rest day has arrived and the plan is for a really relaxed day. We'll have a 50km ride, Chris was the only one doing media. Also, my parents are here so I get to see them for the first time in months so that's nice.
We know that Tuesday's a hard stage. We've been here before and it blew to pieces at the start in the cross-winds and there's some hard climbs. Then there's the famous Beloki – Armstrong descent into Gap. It's certainly not going to be an easy day then to follow the time trial on Wednesday is a really hard one. For me it's going to be an RDO because this race is going to go down to the wire. Chris is in a great position but we're not counting our chickens before they hatch. Everyone in the race is tired, and stressed, there's a lot of tension between all the teams. Yesterday for example, without naming names, one team decided to attack when the yellow jersey had stopped to take a piss, things like that, but this is the Tour. You can't expect any favours. The motto is flick or be flicked.
I've seen Chris do a lot of great things but being Mont Ventoux, I think Sunday's effort was his best. It's the most impressive win I've seen him have. When you look at his palmares now and he's got Peña Cabarga, then last year the La Planche des Belles Filles... he's got a knack for taking out the big stages. This time it was Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day in the wake of a lot of pressure on Sky. People were saying that our team wasn't strong and this and that but I think he silenced a few critics which inevitably then opens up a whole different can of worms.
Full credit to Quintana, he attacked really early while Chris was still sitting on the wheels. Because Quintana attacked from a long way out, I think Chris was just that little bit fresher near the top. The thing with Chris is what you saw out there on Ventoux is his bread and butter. He can be explosive. Those surges are what really hurts the other guys on the climbs. You can never train for that intensity but that ride that you saw on Ventoux is not dissimilar to the efforts that we do in training.
Time for a clarification of sorts. People said to me that I was smiling on Ventoux. I don't think it's a smile, it's just how it is. My good mate Cameron Wurf said it's a snarl but maybe it's my blank look. If you're on the front of a bike race and you can feel that you're putting the hurt on, that's a massive source of inspiration to keep going. I would have liked to have gone a bit further but Chris was just gone. Put it this way, if I know that Bjarne Riis is in the car and my face is contorted, he's going to pass on to Alberto that Richie's hurting.
Speaking of Alberto, he was brilliant, he was the only other guy apart from Quintana who could follow Chris. True to form, he's getting better as the race goes on and he's not done yet. It's a bit sad for us to see Mick riding along in Saxo colours and I believe that he's proving to be their biggest weapon. Anyone that knows Mick knows that he's the smartest, most calculated guy going around. He's a massive bonus for them. Money can't buy experience like that. Last year on the road, Mick made some really hard calls – do we chase to bring it back for Cav or do we let it go? – Mick was the one who would inevitably say no, we're going to make too many enemies in the bunch. If Mick was behind you or with you, everything was fine. He thinks an hour in advance with what's going on.
With the stages left to come, for me individually, I can't have any ambitions. But, my personal ambition is to see my mate win the Tour de France. I'm looking forward to l'Alpe d'Huez and getting the job done. It's going to be a special day with the crowds up there. The second time up is going to be insane and it's really hard to get your head around going up there twice in the last week of the Tour but everyone's in the same boat. You just have to treat it as any other climb, just with a different name.
Reflections on the first nine stages
After nine stressful stages, the rest day means it's time to take some time out and be as relaxed as possible. Last night we had our transfer after what I can only describe as one of the hardest stages I've ever done in my life.
The thing about a grand tour is that it only takes one day. One day early on can set you up for the next three weeks. One day at any time can ruin any chances you may have had. Looking back to Stage 8, most of the damage and most of the selection was made in the downhill which was ridiculously fast on the Col de Pailhères. Anyone that's ever ridden a bike, and let's face it it's the ones who haven't ridden a bike that have big issues, will know that when you have to descend like that your legs are rubbish. Then to have to be on the front… that's half the game.
Bike racing's funny. You have a great day and then the next you find yourself chasing all the GC guys from 40km in. Sunday's ninth stage was uncontrollable.
In the wash-up of Sunday, and the fact that Froomie was isolated the way that he was, no team can protect their leader the way we might have liked to. If the peloton wants to attack like that and have the GC guys play their cards so early, it's just too hard to control. From now on we just can't lose any more time to Valverde and Contador.
It hasn't really surprised me that those guys are breathing down our necks like that but if there has been a surprise, it's Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam. They were brilliant on Saturday and if you looked at Sunday, Belkin had numbers in that front group again. Belkin is here and it's good. I did say to Chris the other day that Andy Schleck was looking good. The old Andy isn't so far from being back and that's nice to see. He's one of the good guys in the peloton and he's had a rough time of it the last year-and-a-half.
Looking at the next week or so and keeping in mind what's happened before the rest day, you never really get a day off riding for GC. There will be a fair bit of wind these next few days and you've got a time trial in there as well. For us it would be great if Chris could take a little bit more time there and get a bit more breathing space. To be honest, I can't really see GC changing that much from here on in. The weekend gone was a pretty good indicator of the strong guys in the race but we all know that the one way to really shake it up is with a big cross-wind day or a time trial.
Personally, with GC done and dusted now I'd like to have a good time trial, just for the morale. I've got a new position on my time trial bike so I really want to test that out.
Final tweaks, and I'm ready for a nervous first week
If I had to use one word to describe this last week, it's hectic.
The lead in to the Tour de France is nearly as exhausting as riding it. In my last blog before the Dauphiné I mentioned that I was hopeful of hitting top form about this time after a bit of illness and I'm pleased to say that I've got there.
My run into the Dauphiné was nowhere near ideal. To come away and be second at a race like that, for me this time while last year or even two years ago, that would have been absolutely incredible. But after the season I've had, winning Paris-Nice, and the two seasons Sky has had, second is a good result but you just roll on to the next one. What it's really done is given me a bit more confidence going into the Tour. There was a lot of guys there being touted for the podium at the Tour and I guess they've got a lot of tweaks to do too but Chris and I had just as much to improve on as they did. I don't think Alberto would have been super-chuffed losing 2:17 or whatever it was to me in a time trial. The key thing is that we're not being complacent. We've seen what Alberto can do, take last year's Vuelta for example or pretty much his whole career, but we're expecting a fight. It's not just Alberto, there's a lot of other guys out there gunning for us.
While the Tour has been drawing closer, it doesn't really change the way we train. We haven't done a massive taper after the Dauphiné. Five of us from the Tour team went to Châtel, so we had a little bit of recon and generally tried to keep healthy. With a few last minute adjustments, everyone tries to lose a couple of kilos and now everyone's turned up with new haircuts which makes you instantly look leaner.
The mechanics really earn their cash at this time of year, too. We've recently got new time trial bikes. I got mine almost a month ago and there's been little things to tweak – the handle bar set up for example. My right handle bar has only just arrived. The Pinarello Bolide is a big improvement on the last bike we got but just before the Tour, it makes it hectic. The mechanics are out there building up nine brand new bikes and anyone that's seen a time trial bike being built knows that it's not easy. There are cables going everywhere! You only need to look at it to see that it's a much cleaner, more aerodynamic bike. To ride it, it's ten times different. It's stiffer, it corners better and generally feels like a much better time trial bike.
I've had a few sleep-ins cut short as well. In the last three weeks, with the Dauphiné I've been tested nine times – three or four of those have been out-of-competition. People said at the start of the year that there wasn't a hell of a lot of testing out-of-competition but we were still getting it at races. In the lead-up to the Tour, the stakes are just that much higher so the testers have been busy. Now, people will probably suggest 'oh, he's being target-tested,' but you know what? Stuff it. If you're doing the Tour, this is normal; there's a lot more testing.
So, what to expect at the 2013 Tour de France?
I've seen people having their two bobs worth saying that last year was a boring Tour, but that's their opinion and they love to voice it. This year will be different. You look at Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez and some of the other guys – they're quite explosive climbers so I guess that's how they're going to take it up to us. We've got our style of riding, people say it's boring or robotic or whatever but if you want a clean sport then it comes with the territory. I love it when the armchair experts say that Chris rides off an SRM. Cycling's not mathematical. Some of the times that he's been criticised for doing that, he doesn't even have an SRM on. For example, that last stage of the Dauphiné he'd swapped bikes and he still rode away from everyone. I'm sure I'm going to get slaughtered for saying that, but I really don't care.
The first week of racing is always stressful but this time around, probably more so without a prologue. Corsica in itself is not exactly ideal for a peloton of this size in such a big race, but it's just how it is. It's going to be exciting to watch on television anyway. We've been here before; we did the Critérium International and we rode basically the whole course in March – where we were able to, it was snowing – so some of it we did in the car. There's some pretty technical roads to contend with in the first few days so someone will be losing time, we've just got to hope that it is not us.
If things go to plan and I don't have to sacrifice too early in the climbs for Chris, looking at the Dauphiné and every other race that we've done this season, it is possible for us both to be there at the finish. However, the main goal is to support Chris and to put him on the top stop come Paris. I'm just going to do my job and see what happens.
Richie Porte is in the form of his burgeoning career, not an easy task considering the Australian shot into public consciousness in 2010 winning the Giro d'Italia's young rider classification and holding a place in the GC's top-10 for the duration of the grand tour - all as a neo pro.
Following his victory at Paris-Nice and runner-up overall placings at Critérium International and Vuelta al Pais Vasco, the Team Sky climber is about to take on the Ardennes for the very first time before building up to the Tour de France. Join Porte as he takes Cyclingnews along for the ride.