With a third of his first Grand Tour as a leader of Team Sky from the get-go now over, Richie Porte has said that he is “ready to get stuck into the second week” and feels that he is in “a fantastic position after nine stages” of the Giro d'Italia.
Third overall, Porte said in a press conference on Monday afternoon he had had “a nice short ride” on the rest day, and was feeling relaxed. He had been riding on the time trial bike, too, and has a new set of handlebars in from Pinarello which he was testing out prior to using them for the first time in live action on Saturday.
“Like any rest day it seems like there’s only 23 hours in that day, it always goes way too quickly, and I’m ready now to get stuck into the second week.”
“Hopefully tomorrow [stage 10] (a flat, straight run which is like to end in a bunch sprint) is straightforward, I’m kind of fearing those sprint stages a bit more than the actual mountain stages, to be honest. We’ve seen they’re a little bit more decisive sometimes.”
“But we’ll just get through this next week as best we can, we’re in a fantastic position after nine stages and to be so close to [Fabio] Aru (Astana) and Alberto [Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo] and then also to put time into guys like Rigoberto [Urán, Etixx-Quick Step]. Unfortunately [Domenico] Pozzovivo (AG2R-La Mondiale) has had to go home. I like where we are.”
Asked if he had had to push very hard at any point on the stages, Porte answered with the image of the duck on the water. “You look calm on the surface, but underneath it’s not easy to try to follow these guys. There was 90 kilometres to go yesterday [stage 9] when Astana lit it up. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been comfortable. I haven’t had to go into the red just yet and that’s the way I wanted it to be in the first week.”
Although at ease at the moment, Porte recognised that it had been a very intense first week of racing. “Everybody’s fresh, everybody wants to race, we’ve seen that Astana’s really taken the race up. That suits me to be honest, if they really want to make the race hard. I actually thought it would be Tinkoff-Saxo making it hard, but you know, our team has been able to sit back and manage our guys as best we can.”
“It’s a three week race, we’re nine stages in, we have 12 to go. So all our guys are fine, and have come through well.” By way of example, Porte cited how both Mikel Nieve and Leopold Konig had “done a fantastic job” on the summit finish at Campitello Matese.
At the top of the hierarchy is Porte himself, of course, and he argues that it is a position he was due to assume. “This season I think deserve to have the leadership role. I’ve seen it with Chris [Froome] and Bradley [Wiggins] but now it’s my turn. I feel fine.”
“I didn’t expect Dave [Brailsford - Team Principal] to get us a chopper [helicopter for the transfer to the rest day hotel, a four to five hour drive away] yesterday” - “neither did I,” interjected Dave Brailsford - “but it’s those little things.”
“It’s great having my own RV, sleeping in the same bed and not having to do the hotel changes and pack your suitcase every day. I think that’s the great thing about this team, they’re making it as stress free as they can for me.”
With his situation being so stable and with no apparent problems so far, the million dollar question is - and it was put to him - when Porte will actually go on the attack. “In the [stage 14] time trial,” where Porte is expected to turn in a strong performance, he said with a smile.
“To be honest, I haven’t had to attack yet… I think Aru and [Mikel] Landa (Astana) are doing all the attacking for us.” As Porte sees it, “It doesn’t make sense to go attacking like that in the first week, you’ve got to pay for it somewhere, maybe in the third week, let’s just see what happens.”
Some observers have argued that Porte will take time on the other overall contenders in the time trial on Saturday and then his rivals will try to regain the upper hand in the mountains. But as Porte points out, “To be honest, they haven’t dropped me in the mountains yet, either have they?…I think my time trialling this year has been good, I’m Australian National Champion and beating guys like Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) who’s a specialist, for sure that does give me confidence going into the time trial.”
“I’ve seen the time trial course and it’s strange, it’s like two time trials packed into one, so at the same time, the last half of that time trial is climbing, and it does suit them [his rivals] a bit as well. I wouldn’t say the last [climbing part of the tt] is too soft, it’s up and down but I still think the last 29 kilometres are going to be quite hard.”
Asked what he thought of the theory that Astana were trying to tire out their rivals prior to going into Saturday’s time trial, Porte responded that - assuming that interpretation of Astana’s strategy was correct - “it [that strategy] is a double edged sword. They’re going to be tired as well, they’re only human, yesterday [stage nine] they reduced the group with 90 kilometres to go but then they had nobody really left to pull with. So there’s only so long you can do that for.”
So five years on from when he had his breakthrough moment in the 2010 Giro d’Italia, held the maglia rosa and finished seventh overall, Porte is sounding and looking upbeat about the race so far. “I’m really enjoying it, I think the shorter stages are much more of a spectacle and it’s good to have someone like Aru and Astana who are making the race exciting to watch.”
“Nine stages in, it’s still quite close, but we’ve had some really hard racing.” As for if there was a point in this first part when he felt particularly good, “probably last night when I got on the helicopter, looked down and saw all the [team] buses loading up. That was probably the best moment this week."