Porte: I didn't leave Team Sky for BMC just to target the Giro d'Italia
Australian discusses his move to BMC, coexisting with van Garderen, and his bid for the Tour de France
The recent flurry of rider transfers has somewhat overshadowed the fact that one of the biggest signings of the season - Richie Porte from Team Sky to BMC – already took place several months ago.
Since then Porte has almost been a ghost on the racing and media scene but on Thursday evening the Australian talked to Cyclingnews about his 2016 campaign; why he has moved to BMC; his Tour de France ambitions and of course the question that has dominated his summer: how is it going to work between him and Tejay van Garderen at the Tour de France?
"Obviously I'm not leaving Sky and joining BMC just to target the Giro," Porte tells Cyclingnews straight off the bat.
"I'm not leaving a team that I've been so happy at to go and ride the Giro again next season. I want to peak for July and the Tour de France."
That's settled that. Instead of targeting the Giro d'Italia in 2016, as he has done in the last two years, Porte will hope to have a full run at the Tour de France in summer and although his full race programme has yet to be confirmed or announced it’s fair to suggest that he will enjoy a typical pre-Tour race schedule with a few alterations – such as the Tour Down Under – mixed in.
"And with it being an Olympic year, I'd love to do the Games. From what I've heard it's going to be a hard course out in Rio and one that suits the climbers both for the road race and the time trial," Porte said.
"Being an Australian I'd like to start the year with BMC in Australia. I think that's a good way to start the season. From what I've read the Tour Down Under will be quite a hard race with more climbs so I can't think of a better way to start the season with that race and then Nationals."
As for the rest of the spring and early summer, that's yet to be inked in or formatted into BMC training plans. A return and a defence of Paris-Nice is a distinct possibility but BMC will sit down in the coming weeks and hammer out a plan with both Porte and van Garderen around the table.
An obstacle for Porte, and there are a fair few for any rider who has Grand Tour hopes, is how they arrive at the desired target, in terms of both preparation and form. In the past, it has been a problem for Porte, with illness in 2014 and then injury and fading form taking him out of the Giro this year.
"I know what you mean and this season my peak for the season was the Giro and then the plan was to back that up with the Tour de France. Going into the Tour I wasn't anywhere near the condition I was at for the start of the Giro but I've spoken to Allan Peiper and he's someone with so much experience, so he's helping me with my race programme," he said.
The formula for success could see Porte hit the ground running as early as January, taper back after a clutch of races in Europe and then build up towards the Tour with more intensity in the second half of June. It's not quite the pattern his former team leader Chris Froome would measure himself to but every rider is different.
"So, perhaps I'll do something like Romandie and then take a bit of a mini-break and then build up towards the Tour. If I know in my mind that the goal for the year is the Tour then that will help."
Van Garderen and Porte: The great problem to have
Any hopes Porte has on success at the Tour de France – whether it's top five, top three or above - could well depend on the summer of his new teammate Tejay van Garderen. Both riders have similar traits in that they can time trial, climb doggedly in the mountains, yet have an often-exposed Grand Tour Achilles heel that can see their hopes slip away. On paper though, given their one-week successes and previous experience, both riders can realistically claim to be top five contenders for July.
It's a dichotomy that will be one of the most discussed topics throughout the first half of next season, and one can imagine that the story will only intensify should both riders reach the Grand Depart in peak condition.
"Tejay and I have talked about it and we both know that we can coexist within the team. There's not a problem at all," Porte says.
"We've never raced together but with Tejay living in Nice and myself living in Monaco we are going to be able to train together. That's the goal, for us to ride together, so I don't think it's going be a big surprise when the two of us start racing together."
That the pair have already reached out to one other, on a private level, speaks somewhat of the maturity and respect they have for one another. Make no mistake, each rider is thoroughly ambitious and a ruthless competitor, but there are already enough enemies out on the road for them to both realise that a happy BMC camp is crucial.
"We're honest with each other and we even talked during this year's Tour about how we're going to do it. I guess ultimately the road is going to decide though," Porte says, falling back on a truism that ultimately can't be denied as early as October and especially before the Tour route and van Garderen's own race plans have both yet to be confirmed.
"There won't be any surprises and I've known for a while that this was something that needed to be talked about. Tejay and I have both been upfront with each other, and talked on the phone last week. We both agreed that we need to be honest and upfront about what each of us want from the season.
"I don't think you could go into this situation any better than how Tejay and I are prepared. We've had contact and I don't think he's at all angry that I've come to the team. I think we both think that it's a good thing that we can lean on each other, instead of just one guy taking all the pressure."
Prepared for Froome-dog's bite?
Whatever the leadership throws up at BMC, one certainty is that Porte will go head-to-head with ex-teammate and current Tour champion Chris Froome next season. Ever since 2012 and especially since 2013, the pair crafted a fierce combination, often landing one-two punches in the mountains before Froome has finished off the work for Team Sky.
Next season Mikel Landa, Geraint Thomas or Leo Konig will assume the mantle of Froome's last man, while Porte vies to go round for round with Froome, Alberto Contador and the like.
"Froome is the Grand Tour rider of our generation," Porte says of a rider who remains his close friend.
"He's the best. I've massive respect for him on and off the bike and I think that next year there will be times where we do go out training with each other. It's going to be weird for me next season when I'm racing against him and Team Sky and I'm certainly not leaving them on bad terms, and I'm still a fan of that team. It's going to be strange but it's something that I realised when I left the team."
Whether Porte's knowledge of Froome and vice versa can be exploited as a strength or a weakness remains to be seen. "As for knowing Froome inside and out, I certainly know what he's capable of doing. I don't think there are many holes in his armour. He's the complete rider."
And the question has to be asked. Does Porte believe he can beat the double Tour winner, a rider he has served and protected for the last several seasons: "I'm not sure but I need to give myself the chance of trying. He's a brilliant athlete, so let's just see. I'm not sure he really has a weakness though. I mean people said that he would struggle on the cobbles and he had the last laugh. Then they said he wasn't a great descender but when Nibali went for it at the Tour Chris was there too.
"I was massively happy there and if you'd asked me this time last year if I was going to leave Team Sky then the answer would have been no. I was actually close to going to BMC in 2012 though and it was a hard decision to leave Team Sky. It certainly wasn't done in February but at the Tour I knew that I was going and I'd been talking to Dave Brailsford and Fran Millar and they were telling me that I needed to go and that I needed to go to another team and see what I could do for myself. I'm leaving them on good terms, I'm going to a great set up and I'm happy."
Goals for the Tour de France
All attention will turn towards the Tour de France when on October the 20th the route is unveiled in Paris. Froome will be there on Team Sky duty as defending champion and one suspects that the gloves will stay on when he's asked similar questions about Porte's credentials. But once Prudhomme presents his route, simmering under the smiles and compliments will be a realisation that from the moment the route is unveiled, the battle to Paris starts.
For now, though, Porte can relax, his season over due to a season-long effecting bout of Piriformis syndrome that has hindered him at various points in the year. It means that he will not race in Team Sky colours again but in the coming weeks he will meet his new team, his new equipment and begin the next chapter of his career.
"So many people have different opinions about how well I can do or can't do but races I've won this year aren't easy ones to win," he says at the end of the interview.
"I think I've got the potential. I've got a team behind me but it's not an easy thing to do, I know that but I've got a really good opportunity to have a go at the Tour so why not aim high?"
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.