What's Cool In Road Cycling

Giro Talk: Best Young Rider, Richie Porte

Interview: Team Saxo Bank professional Richie Porte has had a better than anticipate debut year in 2010. The 25 year old from Australia’s island state of Tasmania, picked up his first pro win at the Tour of Romandie last week and now, in his first Grand Tour, is leading the classification for the Best Young Rider.

Last year, Richie Porte was an amateur, living and racing in Italy under the care of ex-pro Andrea Tafi. When PEZ spoke to him in August, Porte was lamenting the fact that most of the top guys that he was racing against and even beating on the Italian amateur circuit, had already signed for professional teams, while he had one ‘fallen-through’ contact and not much sign of a contract.

Richie Porte signs in at stage 2 – the face says it all.

Fast-forward to May and the Saxo Bank neo-pro has not only won his first professional bike race, but has also ridden down the start ramp of his first Grand Tour and into the white jersey of the Giro’s Best Young Rider.

After the crash-fest that was Stage 2, we caught up with Richie while he was kicking back at his hotel, to get the low down on his season start and find out just what his ambitions are for the next three weeks of the 101st Giro d’Italia.

White Is Alright!

PEZ: A win in a Pro Tour event and a leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour is not a bad week. Is this anything like you expected your neo-pro year to be like?
No not at all. It’s been incredible. I have to be honest and say I really did hope to win a race this year, but to do that in a ProTour event really surprised me. It really doesn’t get any better than this past week or so.

PEZ: What was the feeling like before the Start on Saturday? Riding in the last section of starters, you has some pretty big names sharing the start house with you.
There were a lot of people who didn’t believe what I did at Romandie and it was great for me personally to have a really good ride. As for the other guys in the start house, you can respect what they have achieved but when you realize that they are just another guy on a bike, you can start going well against them.

PEZ: You were there in the finish of Sunday’s stage too. Was it a constant battle to keep up there at the front?
It was a really tough day. It might have looked like 160km of taking it easy and then 50km at the end, but we battled all day. Towards the end, one of my team mates, Laurent Didier [who is also Porte’s room mate at the Giro] had just brought me back up to the front of the race and as I settled in there was a huge bang behind me and that was the fall where the Sky boys went down.

PEZ: Was the plan on Sunday to defend the jersey and if so, how long do you think you can hold onto it?
Absolutely. We talked about it in the meeting before the stage and then tonight we discussed the fact that it is a priority for the team. The directors have seen the way I rode and have confidence in me to put the team effort behind my defence. The guys too, did a great job for me today.

While leading last year’s amateur Giro Delle Valli Cuneesi, Porte tried the white leader’s jersey on for size before finishing in the grey of Best Foreign Rider.

PEZ: You also managed to move up from 6th to 4th on GC. Does that make any difference to the game plan? Will we be seeing a move to take on the pink?
No not really. I don’t think I’ll be going for the pink. I was really lucky and happy not to crash today but I’ll be moving back down the GC order at some point.

PEZ: In the end, Matt Goss (another Tassie guy) ran second on the Stage. Do you get much of a chance to chat in the bunch or was today just 100% concentration from start to finish?
Actually, Gossy and I had a really good chat out the road today. Some people back home might find it hard to believe, but with the Tassie guys in the bunch, including Wes [Sulzberger] who isn’t racing here, that there are no jealousies. Gossy was really happy for me from yesterday and I’m absolutely stoked for him on his second place today. It’s good to have someone from home to chat to about stuff we find funny. Not many people would believe that on the Giro stage through Amsterdam, two blokes were talking about the Oaks Road club races back home and the specials bin at K-Mart. It passes the time I guess!

PEZ: You know the Italian scene pretty well after your years in Italy. Does the Giro in Amsterdam have more of an Italian vibe or a Dutch one?
A bit of both really. It was strange yesterday after the time trial though. I was trying to find the podium so that I could go up and be presented with my first white jersey and I was having a lot of trouble getting there. I was asking all of the Italians who were around, in Italian, where it was and I was getting nothing but shrugs as replies. Thinking that I was going to embarrass myself and team by not being on stage in time to get the jersey, I was getting pretty stressed and in the end it was an English speaking Dutch policeman, who was able to step in and save the day for me.

PEZ: What was the attention like from back home after your result? The Giro is being broadcast in Australia this year, so are the family staying up late to watch?
My Mum and Dad are over the moon. They had thought about coming over this year to see me race, but for one reason or another, it didn’t work out this time around. There probably isn’t a lot of importance placed on the Giro in my home town back in Australia. I’m not sure that anyone outside the true cycling fans realises how big the Giro is, but that doesn’t really worry me either.

Richie lets rip the official start balloons at stage 2.

The Move To Pro
PEZ: Going back to the start of the season and the Vuelta a Mallorca, you remarked at the time how fast the racing was and that you may have bitten off more than you could chew. What were the first few races like at the top level?
In the beginning I was really questioning if I was actually cut out for this. Right up until Romandie I was thinking that I was never going to make it and then after that result, I guess I realised that I could.

PEZ: Your prologue ride at Paris Nice was an excellent result but then the one at Romandie was one to forget. Did that early crash in Switzerland help motivate you for the time trial stage that you won?
After the crash in the Romandie prologue I was super motivated for the time trial stage. Bjarne Riis and Kim Andersen actually followed me in the Paris Nice prologue and said to me afterwards that they could see I could time trial. They set me a few targets and got me to change a few things, including dropping a couple of kilos, and all of those really helped in the run in to my win in Romandie.

PEZ: In Romandie, you were the fastest over the second half of the course and then on Saturday it was the same at the Giro. Is that part of the tactics or have you found you get going once you settle into the ride?
I actually just think it takes me a bit of time to get going. Then, [laughing] there’s no stopping me! I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a slow starter.

PEZ: Do you think of yourself as a time trial specialist and how much of your ability against the clock do you think has come from your days racing triathlon?
Look, I think time trials could be my future, I’ll just have to wait and see. It’s all about having the power and I have shown that it is there. As for triathlon, the only thing I could honestly say that I brought from that sport is my work ethic. My triathlon coach, Mark Matthews, helped instil the importance of hard work in me right from the start and I have carried that over into my cycling.

A third place behind triple world champ Mick Rogers and Garmin’s Cameron Meyer at the 2009 Australian TT championships, showed a hint of Porte’s ability against the clock.

PEZ: You moved from Italy to Monaco this year. There must be a pretty good training group that rolls out of there most days?
Monaco is great and the move there was the best thing I have ever done. The training group the other morning included Boonen, Gilbert, O’Grady, Goss, Sulzberger and Renshaw. Being around those guys and especially the Aussies, makes things so much easier for me on a day to day basis. Actually after only five months, Monaco feels more like home than Tasmania.

PEZ: You have mentioned Brett Lancaster before and his role in your progress and success over the past years. He and his family are still back in Monsummano Terme in Tuscany so I guess you don’t get out the road on the Big Dog Loop with him much any more?
I’m still in contact with Brett all the time and I would have dearly loved to emulate his feats at the Giro when he won the prologue ‘back in the day’ [it was 2005] and wore the Maglia Rosa. I’m just not at the same quality as a guy like him yet.

Three Weeks To Go

PEZ: You looked pretty happy up there on the podium on Saturday afternoon when they presented the white jersey to you. Best day on the bike so far?
There’s no doubt the Giro is big, but my win at Romandie was a huge thing for me. It might also sound strange, but winning the stage [and then going on to win the overall] at the 2008 Tour of Tasmania that finished up the local climb of Poatina is still one of my best days on the bike. That day, all of my family, my Mum and Dad and my Grandparents, were there to see me win that is still really special to me.

Porte on his way to beating Valverde, Karpets, Rogers (and the rest of the field!) in the 23.4km Stage 3 ITT at the recent Tour de Romandie.

PEZ: What can fans expect from Richie Porte in the next three weeks?
They’re going to see me fight. I haven’t had a really good look at the stage profiles from the mountains…I mean, I do have have to sleep at night, so in some cases it’s better not knowing. But, my plan is to fight all the way to Verona to win this jersey.

If it doesn’t work out for me, I guess I can still say that I’ve had a pretty good Giro!

After just two days on the race, Porte holds the white jersey of Best Young Rider and is sitting in fourth place overall in the GC. I’m not sure that there would be too many people who would argue with him and his assessment of his 2010 Giro d’Italia.

Stay tuned as we check back in with Porte when the race returns to Italy and he has had a chance to check out first hand, some of the climbs that are hiding in those unopened pages of his race book.

If you would like to keep tabs on Porte’s daily progress at the Giro, you can follow his Twitter feed at twitter.com/porteye .

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