Saxo Bank recruit and ProTour neo-pro Richie Porte returned to his European base in Italy on Sunday after a fortnight of introduction to his new teammates at the squad's pre-season survival camp.
Saxo Bank's annual team-building exercise on Fuerteventura, Canary Islands has become one of the team's trademarks, as the riders, managers and support staff come together sans-bikes in the lead-up to the new season. Porte told Cyclingnews on Sunday that although this year's camp had differed to those of previous seasons, it had provided him with an encouraging introduction to his new team.
"I'm led to believe [the camp] wasn't as hard as in past years and a lot more fun. I mean jet skis, helicopters…it was a fun camp, a nice initiation," he said. "It's a totally stress-free team. It's going to be hard having so much time away from [Australia], but it's the team you want to turn professional with."
Porte signed a neo-pro contract with Saxo Bank in October after a successful 2009 season in the Italian amateur ranks with Andrea Tafi's Bedogni-Grassi-Natalini-Gr.Praga squad. His two-year deal with Saxo Bank will see him race with the team until the end of 2011.
Porte's move to Bjarne Riis' squad will see him ride alongside fellow Australians Stuart O'Grady and Baden Cooke, who will also make his Saxo Bank debut next season. Despite the familiar faces on the squad, the camp was the first time Porte had met most of his new teammates.
"Apart from the Australians, it was the first time I've met them all," he said. "To be honest they're just a really good bunch of guys. There's some big names like Cancellara and the Schleck brothers, but they're just normal guys; they don't treat anybody differently."
While the emphasis of the camp was on team building, the team also used the time to meet and confirm race schedules for the 2010 season. Porte's will begin competition at Challenge Majorca, from February 8-12, and although he couldn't confirm which Grand Tour he will start, he expects his debut season to include a three-week race.
"From the looks of my program, the team's got me building towards quite a few stage races," he said. "I've got a good program, it's my first season and it's a bit daunting, but it's such a good team that all I've got to do is get out on my bike, go training and turn up to the races. That's as difficult as it gets; it's a bit different to racing as an amateur in Italy."
Porte will skip the Australian National Championships and Tour Down Under, and will remain in Europe through to the start of the season. He will return to Fuerteventura with the bulk of his teammates on January 10, for a "more intensive" two-week training camp prior to the racing season.