When Richie Porte lines up on Sunday for Liege-Bastogne-Liege - his first race in almost a month - he will have an open mind about his prospects in a team also including Philippe Gilbert and Samuel Sanchez. However, at his next World Tour event, the Tour de Romandie [April 26-May 1], Porte hopes to step up a gear in a season that he is steering steadily towards his first peak at the Tour de France in July where he will be BMC's co-leader with American Tejay van Garderen.
Porte's start in Liege-Bastogne-Liege was only announced on Wednesday as he finished a training camp at Mount Etna in Sicily. The camp was different to those Porte spent at Tenerife riding for Sky which he left to join BMC after last year. But the Tasmanian is confident that it will pay dividends, if not at Liege-Bastogne-Liege then at the Tour de Romandie. And that is despite his concern that the "absolutely beautiful" weather at Mount Etna may leave him marginally ill-equipped for the forecast conditions for the start of the World Tour race.
As Porte told Cyclingnews on Wednesday: "Sitting around the breakfast table this morning, some of the guys were saying [at] Romandie [there] is going to be snow for the prologue. So our heat acclimatisation is not the best for the moment"
As for the Tour de France, Porte believes he is still tracking well, even if his 28 days of racing so far this season lacks his number of wins this time last year – that being eight from 30 race days when he was en-route to overall victory at the Giro del Trentino before leading Sky at the Giro d'Italia, a mission that soured with Porte's withdrawal from injuries in a crash.
But this year, with second in the Australian time trial championship, second overall and a stage win at the Tour Down Under, third at Paris-Nice, and fourth at the Volta a Catalunya, Porte is confident he will be primed for the Tour.
Rupert Guinness: The Tour de Romandie is your next big goal. What are your Liege-Bastogne-Liege hopes?
Richie Porte: Liege is probably the biggest one-day race for guys like myself. I have never really done well there [Did not finish either of two starts in 2013 and 2014]. We will see how Phil Gilbert is after his [finger] injury. I would love to be there in the final. I will just have to take it as it comes I suppose.
RG: How different was the Mount Etna training camp to Sky's at Tenerife? What sort of training did you do?
RP: This camp has been more about volume and good climbing. We have done around 19,000 metres of climbing the last week. The last few days here we have been getting up around the 3,500 metre mark which is quite easy to do here when you have to do the last climb up to 1,900m. Its been a good base of climbing, but it's a bit different to the camps I did at Tenerife with Sky when every day was just absolutely capacity effort after capacity effort. I have kind of enjoyed this one. Being in Italy is a much nicer scene than in Tenerife.
RG: You have followed a steadier program towards the Tour and Olympics. You have still been up in the pointy end of races. Is that something you have taken a lot from? Or would you have wished for an extra win or two?
RP: Mentally, I prepared myself for that … that was how it was going to be. A lot of other 'GC' [general classification] guys have already done two altitude blocks. So to come off a good base in 'Tassie' where I did just kilometres and no efforts … really now [at Mount Etna] is the first time I started to do proper efforts. So to be sitting now third in the UCI rider rankings after third and fourth [at] Paris-Nice and [then] Catalunya, and second at Tour Down Under, mentally this year is a much different approach. This time last year, I was probably peaking at my best. To delay that peak another couple of months … I think it bodes well for the Tour.
RG: Does it help knowing your main Tour rivals still don't know what the best Richie Porte has got to offer yet?
RP: [laughing]. I think they kind of do. I have ridden with most of them for many years. And it's not like I can ever attack and they [will] just let me go. It's one of those things. But it is certainly a different game for me this year … to be hitting July on top form and having opportunities for myself rather than working for somebody else.
Also, [for] the Olympics … I have spoken a bit with Brad [McGee, the Australian men's road coach and selector]. Straight after [the Tour de] Romandie we jump on a plane and go and have a look at the Rio [Olympic] course. That's also quite an incentive for me this year … to start the season a little later.
RP: Is the lure of the Olympics the dream of winning a medal, or is it about fulfilling a dream to compete in the Games because you haven't done that before?
RP: It's a bit of everything. It would be a great honour to go. I think it is a good course for me. We just have to see how guys come out of the Tour and the guys who come out of the Giro … It's not an easy one to be selected for, being an Aussie.
RG: For the Tour de Romandie would you like to step it up and be a bit closer towards the win rather than the podium as you have been in your races so far this season?
RP: There is a quite a long time trial in this race. I would like to be towards the pointy end a little bit more. This year with Paris-Nice … I didn't have the time trial up Col d'Eze and Catalunya doesn't have the time trial in it. Romandie is a nice race. It is where I had my first professional win in 2010 [stage 4 time time trial]. Obviously, riding for a Swiss-American team there is a little bit of pressure on us to get he win there.
RG: Mat Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge) won Paris-Roubaix. What did it mean for you as a fellow Australian and former Sky teammate to see him win such a big race?
RP: I was up on Mount Etna actually watching it. Out of that group of five [race leaders] I was sort of barracking for Ian Stannard [of Sky] as well and Mathew Hayman. As a guy that has raced with Mathew … he is just an absolute gentleman. He has always done it the right way, and to see him finish that off with a big result. To me, it is not really a surprise. They say he is a 'domestique' and all these things, but I know he is an incredibly talented bike rider. But to win it like that after the injuries and things he has been through was incredible. It was the most thoroughly deserved win I have seen all season.