Richie Porte was the revelation of the 2010 Giro d'Italia. He wore the maglia rosa for three days and went home as winner of the young rider classification but perhaps most impressively, he was in the general classification top 10 for the entire duration of the race. On the eve of this year's Giro, it's a very different Porte staring down the barrel of the next three weeks.
"This time last year there was no pressure whatsoever," he told Cyclingnews. "I had a good race – it turned out pretty well."
The Australian has only known that he needed to join the Saxo Bank team in Turin for a week. The result is a relaxed rider who hasn't really had the chance to think about the arduous task ahead.
"I haven't had the stress of thinking about it for months and reading about how it's the hardest this and that," Porte explained. "When you look at the parcours it is probably something that a lot of guys would be losing sleep over. I don't think there're many Grand Tours that have been so hard. Everybody has to go up them [mountains] so everybody's in the same boat."
Given his exploits in 2010, there is some pressure but it's all about doing the job for team leader Alberto Contador. It might be a bit sad in some ways, riding along and being an hour down knowing that it was only twelve months ago he was in a fight for the overall, but that's the reality of the job.
Riding the Giro for a cause
Porte's selection for the Giro raised a few eyebrows, especially given his recent health struggles with some pesky allergies that dogged him. Some even questioned whether the team had Porte's best interests in mind. It left the 26-year-old feeling annoyed to say the least.
"The team know where I'm at and what I'm capable of and I don't think they're going to put me into a race which is just going to ruin the rest of my season," explained an adamant Porte. "I'm here to gain experience and I'll still ride the Tour.
"Some of the good guys last messed up their Tour by doing this race. It was just two years ago that Wiggo [Bradley Wiggins] surprised everybody by doing such a good preparation in the Giro and then he had the Tour of his life, so fingers crossed that's how I can come out of it as well."
The relations ship between directeur sportif Brad McGee and Porte is one of mutual respect and that's perhaps what has riled him the most. Sure it's "weird" that the Tasmanian used to sit up until the early hours of the morning watching McGee, along with the likes of Robbie McEwen, Stuart O'Grady, and Baden Cooke stamp their authority on the Tour de France on television while eating pistachios – but the pair have become close in their time at Saxo Bank.
"We have our little differences but I think we're the same bike rider in a lot of ways," Porte admits. "He can see all my little faults on and off the bike. The other thing is we've been in the hot seat three times this year in time trials – it's quite a tense moment. He's a great guy and he's an inspiration for a young Aussie time trialist."
McGee says that this edition of the Giro is all about experience. No Australian has ever won a Grand Tour and for Porte to be the one, he needs a lot more three-week slogs under his belt.
Porte warns that he won't be one of the first guys over the Zoncolan – despite the fact that it's the stage he's most looking forward to – but his most important work for the team will be done in the lead up to some of the climbs.
"There's pressure in a different way – but I'm looking forward to it."
His big incentive, is to make it to Milan in good enough shape to be competitive in the final stage time trial where last year, he finished 11th.
Next stop, Vendée
There is no doubt that it's a big ask for Porte to race both the Giro and the Tour de France but for the rider himself it's a case of "Why not?"
He had been scheduled to start in the Dauphine, but it's a race now off the agenda with the immediate focus now on managing Porte's recovery post-Giro.
"Maybe the Tour de Suisse but we'll see," he said. "Otherwise I'll be going to altitude as a relax-and-recovery thing. It's exciting the options I have after it to try and get myself back."
Regrets? Maybe a few...
Looking back to Porte's Grand Tour baptism of fire one year ago, it's hard for an outsider to see how he could possibly find room for disappointment.
"In all honesty I would have liked to have held the pink for a little bit longer," he said. "It was a horrible and stressful time. It really was. Wearing the pink jersey, everybody wanted to finish you off."
The enormity of Porte's achievements took a while, and "a few beers" to sink in but despite the fact that the three weeks rushed by in a whirlwind of pain, he realises that he was a part of Australian cycling history.
"There aren't that many Aussies to have won a jersey at a Grand Tour. Whenever you go to sign on at a race in Europe they always mention it. It's a nice one to have."
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