The kit and the bike may have changed but the ambitions within Richie Porte remain the same, if not become more acute, as he sits down and greets the press at BMC Racing’s December camp in Denia. He has changed teams in order to give himself the best opportunity of winning a Tour de France, and while the phrase ‘now or never’ might flex on the side of hyperbolic, there’s a touch of truth to it.
During the morning and well before his media session, while his teammates sipped their coffee and limbered from their slumber, Porte was in the gym enjoying a one-on-one session of core stability work. Bent over backwards, and in a position most would describe as distressingly uncomfortable, Porte managed a quick wave and hello to a couple of journalists before moving back into work.
The early morning class is a measure of dedication one could say but also a realisation within Porte that his move to BMC and ambition of winning the Tour de France can suffer no distractions. Not even on media day.
“At the end of the day I knew what I had in Sky, and I was happy there but I’ve been close to coming to BMC before,” a relaxed Porte explains to the press.
“I’m finally here and certainly in the early part of last season, I showed that when I had good form I do need to take my own opportunities. Obviously I’m here and alongside Tejay we can be competitive in the Tour de France.
The question about who will lead the Tour de France team - Porte or Tejay van Garderen - will be irrelevant if both riders replicate their Grand Tour form from 2015 but BMC have placed trust, not to mention funds, in backing their two challengers. Both are similar in stature and style, although there’s no doubting that Porte has won more week-long races, and that van Garderen is a more proven top-five rider in the Tour.
Their at-times dovetailing race schedules and planned assault on fortress Sky will be one of the most intriguing subplots of 2016 , almost regardless of the outcome, but Porte astutely points out that the two men can lean on each other, dissipating the pressure and even using the media’s insistence on asking leadership questions as a pillar to bond over.
“It’s good for Tejay to have me in the team but it’s also good for me to have Tejay,” the Australian says.
“I don’t have quite the runs on the board in a Grand Tour but I’m 31 next season and I’m not going to retire wondering what I could have done. BMC is that big opportunity for me to have that dedicated team, alongside Tejay, to see what we can do.”
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In a recent podcast with Cyclingnews,Porte was asked if he had a point to prove, either to himself or cycling fans. The 30-year-old was tipped as a future Grand Tour star after a heroic ride in the Giro d’Italia several years ago. At Sky he was nurtured further, picking up a litter of week-long stage race titles and helping Froome to his Tour titles.
However, when given the chance to lead at the Giro d’Italia this year he succumbed to a number of factors including injury, illness and bad luck. His ambition, plus Team Sky’s attraction to Mikel Landa meant that both parties were comfortable in moving on amicably.
Yet every now and then Porte’s bristly nature appears. He clearly reads some of the criticism levelled at him – some fair, some perhaps not – and his determination to make his move to BMC a success is clearly there.
“You turn up at Paris-Nice and win it and people then say that the big names weren’t there but whatever. You can only beat who turns up but to go to Catalunya and then beat the guys we’re talking about, yeah it gives you confidence. That showed me that if I’m at the top of my game then I can be quite competitive.
“You can’t expect to be the team leader at Team Sky with Froome doing what he’s doing. He’s a British rider and with Sky being a British team you’re limited as to what you can do. That’s not to say they didn’t give me opportunities, they were fantastic to me.”
The end of Porte’s press conference is near, the questions from those attending almost exhausted. There’s time for just a few more and inevitably the attention turns for Chris Froome – a friend, an ex-teammate and soon-to-be rival.
Can you beat him, someone asks: “Froome has had some bad days in the Tour but even with two of them he’s still won. There’s not a lot he’s beatable on but it’s not just Tejay and I looking to exploit him. There’s Contador and these other guys too.”
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