As he faces what could well be one of the pivotal races of his career, Richie Porte (Team Sky) has explained how the Giro d’Italia has been responsible for one of the key moments of his career. The Australian took the lead in 2010, as a neo-professional, a race that he says captivated him as an amateur in Italy.
“I remember watching it on television back then in the team house [in Italy] and then obviously as a professional I was lucky enough to spend a few days in the pink jersey, so it’s always been the one.”
Seventh in the 2010 Giro d'Italia and the race leader for three days, as well as the event's Best Young Rider, Porte said on Friday that “It was the first race where I burst onto the scene, those three days were the most incredible I’ve had on the bike.”
Some might think that Porte has blotted out his memories of his previous Grand Tour, last year's Tour de France, where he fell sick after having to step up to the plate when Chris Froome crashed out. However, the Tasmanian has definitely seen a silver lining in that particular setback.
“There was not much I could do, I was sick, but in a lot of ways it was a blessing in disguise,” he argues. “I had to make a few tough decisions with my lifestyle, and I’m happy with the off-season I had. I was watching my weight, being a professional bike rider on and off the bike.”
The results are there for all to see: nine victories this season, with a steady stream of stage race victories ranging from Paris-Nice and the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya through to the Giro del Trentino two weeks ago.
“It’s set me up so well this year. I’ve had a dream start to the season but this is the race for me, the one I’ve been thinking about in every training ride since I started [training for] the season back in November.”
Porte’s run of top results strongly suggests he’s on a similar approach path to the one used by Sky with Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Froome in 2013, when they won stage race after stage race prior to their respective Tour de France triumphs. However, the downside is that he has been in very good shape for so long that he might run out of energy in the difficult third week of the Giro.
Faced with the same question, Porte showed none of the exasperation expressed by Wiggins when, for example, in the 2012 Dauphine he was asked if he had ‘peaked too early’. Wiggins' response back in the Dauphine after taking the lead was a memorable “I can never win whatever I do - If I didn't take the [leader’s] jersey or perform here then I'm the biggest piece of rubbish out there but if I win here I've peaked too soon.”
Taking a more measured response, Porte responded “obviously people say that, but [in fact] I’ve only got better as the season has progressed. Using guys such as Tim Kerrison, our coach, who’s won the Tour two times with two different guys, I have to put my faith in him, which I do.
“It’s going to be a hard third week, but I prefer to come into this race with stage wins in basically every race I’ve done than a long [training at] altitude block. I don’t feel tired, but I’m ready to fight. I’m going to be tired, but it’ll be the same for everybody.”
One of the big questions, though, will be whether Porte is able to take on Alberto Contador, his former teammate, with whom he raced in both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in 2011. But although Porte has seen Contador in action in Grand Tours both as an adversary and a team captain, he does not feel that having been the Spaniard’s teammate brings him either advantages or drawbacks.
“To be honest I don’t think it does…in the 2011 Giro, which I rode with him, he was head and shoulders above everybody. We know how Alberto likes to race and that the harder it is, the better. So I think for me also, I’ve developed into a rider who, if it’s a hard stage, I like that as well. And if he wants to race that way, that suits me just fine.”