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Richie Porte: The door was always open at Ineos Grenadiers

Richie Porte
(Image credit: Ineos Grenadiers)

Richie Porte has forecast that his reunion with Ineos Grenadiers this season will coincide with a change in the British juggernaut's approach to Grand Tours. 

The 35-year-old intends to see out the final two years of his career at Ineos following a career-best third place at the 2020 Tour de France with Trek-Segafredo. 

The result, which doubled as Australia's second-best overall performance at the Tour, behind Cadel Evans' 2011 victory, was long-awaited vindication for Porte's decision to leave David Brailsford's set-up in 2015 and chase his own yellow jersey success, after supporting teammates Bradley Wiggins and especially Chris Froome to victory in Paris so well. 

However, it hasn't made the all-rounder reconsider his call to return to super domestique duties at Grand Tours with Ineos, which is still home to 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas but also blooding a younger generation of talent including 2020 Giro d'Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, 2019 maillot jaune Egan Bernal and others, in the wake of the departed Froome. 

"My contract with Ineos, I signed that to be a support rider, but I still think that at the same time if I can get back to great shape and be up there, you know, you never know what's going to happen in races but that's not my big goal to go and lead a Grand Tour," Porte said.  "But I think certainly if I can turn up in good enough condition to maybe play a tactical role or whatever for the team then I'll take that for sure."

That is an approach that worked well for Porte last year when he opted against putting a number on success at the Tour and capitalised on the spotlight, which has previously brought him undone in France, being shone elsewhere. 

"I think going into races in that role but not having teams to back you up, I mean," Porte trailed off. "Whereas Ineos, I think they could turn up to pretty much any team and back up a few leaders. You saw the way they were racing the Giro and the Vuelta; I think they are definitely going to change the way they race Grand Tours.

"You know, when you are taking on a team like [Jumbo] Visma or a rider like [reigning Tour winner Tadej] Pogačar, who basically won the race on his own just because he was the strongest rider, you can't do the old 'strongest team in the race' card and beat them. You do have to throw a few curve balls at them."

Porte was one of significantly fewer WorldTour riders who returned to Australia amid the COVID-19 pandemic for the off and pre-season. He is currently training in his native Tasmania and set to headline Adelaide's Santos Festival of Cycling, starting Thursday, which is running in place of the traditional Tour Down Under season-opener that was cancelled. 

The event was the primary reason Porte said he and his young family returned to Australia, where they underwent a government mandated two-week hotel quarantine in Perth on arrival. They are set to stay until February. Porte, who was suffering from a cold earlier this month, has opted against competing at the delayed Australian national championships in early February due to trigger-happy state border closures across the mainland that have left people stranded. 

The titles in Victoria were initially on a 2021 race program that he said is not set beyond Adelaide and maybe either Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico, given the current global climate. 

"Kerro [head coach Tim Kerrison] did put it [nationals] in my program but I'm not going to take that risk. I don't think that, you know, what if things change while I'm there? Then what do we do?" Porte said. 

The pandemic somewhat dulled Porte's celebrations after the Tour and a Paris soiree with Trek-Segafredo teammates into the wee hours of the morning didn't happen. Instead, he hitched a ride on an Ineos jet back to Monaco to meet his newborn daughter and see his wife, Gemma, and toddler son. 

Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) third at the 2020 Tour de France

Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) third at the 2020 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Porte said it took him a day to come down from the race he had for five years concertedly tried to podium in.

"It was always going to be hard to get out that night with the time that the Tour finishes so luckily enough Ineos had a jet and they got me on that, so I was home that night and met Eloise, so it was good," Porte said.

"When I got home, new baby and stuff, and then with all the restrictions I never really had the chance to have like a dinner to celebrate but it's all good. It's very different now isn't it, with children.

"I had three-and-a-half days back in Monaco and then straight to Worlds. And then I did the Ardennes Classics and then off-season in Monaco but it was consumed with trying to get everything in order to make it back here so we could have off-season in the relative comfort of Australia."

Porte would have been a strong candidate if not shoo-in for Cycling Australia's Oppy Medal, but the awards ceremony wasn't held due to the pandemic and disrupted season. Though he will receive keys to the city of his Launceston hometown on January 30 – Porte's birthday – before preparing to start another chapter at Ineos, the team he has the fondest memories at.

"When I left the team in 2015 it was on good enough terms that Dave said if I ever wanted to go back then the door was open, and that's not always the way you leave teams," he said.

"I certainly know for me, leaving a couple of teams I don't think I'd have been welcomed back with open arms. It's just the way that it is, it's professional sport and probably the same in any sport, you don't always leave on good terms.

"But look, I've never been happier than when I was in that team and they knew that I needed to go and do my own thing for a couple of years. Now I'm finally going back, I couldn't be happier. I think the moment is right, the support they can offer their riders is second to none and now with two kids I think I need that a bit."