Richie Porte has said that he is happy to honour his contract at Saxo Bank, in spite of rumours towards the end of the season linking him with a move away from the team. The Australian also said that he believes he can ride two grand tours in 2011.
“The thing about that was that people forgot I had a contract, and it’s not easy to break a contract,” Porte told Cyclingnews from Monaco. “I’m very happy at Saxo Bank. Last year it was such a big deal to sign for the team. Bjarne [Riis] showed a lot of faith in putting me on the team, so I owe it to him to finish out my contract with him.”
Porte was the subject of intense transfer speculation in September, with Team Sky reportedly poised to snap him up. Given that Saxo Bank were already facing an exodus of talent due to the formation of the Luxembourg Pro Cycling Project, team manager Riis was understandably keen to hold on to his charge.
However, if Porte continues to develop as he did during his remarkable 2010 season, he will have no shortage of suitors when his contract at Saxo Bank expires at the end of 2011.
“I’m just thinking about next season for now, but when the time comes it will be interesting,” he explained. “Having said that, I’d love to stay with Bjarne for a while.”
While the departures of marquee-name riders such as the Schleck brothers and Fabian Cancellara have dominated the headlines, Porte pointed out that the loss of so many members of the team’s backroom staff would have no less significant an impact on the dynamic of the squad.
“A lot of the staff will be gone too and I think that’s the sort of thing that’s been overlooked,” Ported said. “Bobby Julich’s gone to Sky and we’ve lost some other good staff as well, so it’s totally different.”
One man who may be going in the opposite direction is Michael Rasmussen, who has recently been linked with a move to Saxo Bank. Porte is unconcerned by the possible arrival of Rasmussen, who served a two-year suspension for deceiving testers about his whereabouts in 2007.
“It doesn’t really matter to me either way if Michael Rasmussen signs,” he said. “Saxo has such a good team spirit and we’re always going to work for our leader. It’s not really any stress to me who the leader is.”
The Giro and the Tour?
Porte will begin to piece together his 2011 programme at Saxo Bank’s first training camp later this month. While he has some specific goals already in mind, he is all too aware that his plans may be contingent on whether or not Alberto Contador escapes suspension and joins the team.
“If Contador comes, then I’d like to have a good go at the Giro or the Vuelta, and of course I’d like to do the Tour de France,” Porte said. “I’m not going to do three grand tours of course, but next year I’d like to do two. I think I can step up and handle that.
“If I do things right I think I could through the Giro and get some good form, and then help Alberto at the Tour if he’s there.”
Porte was the revelation of this year’s Giro, with a spell in the pink jersey and victory in the young riders’ classification, as well as 7th place overall. He revealed that for all the difficulty of the route, he came out of the race “more mentally drained than physically,” and he is confident that he can successfully negotiate the 2011 edition.
In any case, having ridden as an amateur for the Monsummanese Grassi Mapei squad in 2009, it is no surprise that Porte has a particular affinity towards racing under Italian skies.
“I like the Giro and I really enjoy racing in Italy,” he said. “It’s a win-win situation, whether I ride the Giro, the Tour or both.”
Outside of the major tours, Porte also hopes to show his hand in week-long stage races such as Paris-Nice in 2011. His first objective of the year, however, comes long before the start of the European season.
“Obviously I’ll be doing the Tour Down Under in January, but first there are the Australian Nationals,” he said. “[Saxo Bank teammate] Baden Cooke can get around that course and also David Tanner is a new signing, and I think it’s a good course for all three of us. If we can hit that with a little bit of form then I think one of us could snare the Aussie jersey.”
Trading pedal strokes with Eddy Merckx
Porte returned to training this week having spent over three weeks recovering from both the exertions of a long season and the after-effects of a crash at the Tour of Lombardy. He avoided the cycling world as best he could in that time, to the extent that he knew nothing of Bjarne Riis’ recent autobiography apart from what little he saw on the Team Saxo Bank extranet this week.
However, Porte did find time to climb back into the saddle on one occasion during his break, when he went for a ride in the company of Eddy Merckx and Stuart O’Grady, along the coast from Monaco and into Italy.
“For me personally, Merckx and Armstrong are the only two riders that you’re just gobsmacked to be in the presence of,” Porte admitted. “It was incredible. He seemed like just a normal, quiet relaxed guy.
“We had a coffee with him in Ventimiglia. And yeah, he still looks pretty good on a bike…”