Richie Porte, The Genuine Article
If you wanted to visit a hotbed of Australian cycling, you could do far worse than head to the Principality of Monaco a few kilometres east of Nice on the Mediterranean coast. A large number of cyclists make their home in Monaco, not only for the obvious tax breaks, but also due to the vast amount of fantastic cycling to be had. The city itself is a playground of the super rich, but ride for 20 minutes or so into the hills and you’ll find yourself in a world of switchbacks and quiet country roads.
One rider who now calls Monaco home is Richie Porte. I visited Richie as he was between pre Tour altitude training camps. The Tassie triathlete turned pro shocked many with his seventh place in the 2010 Giro d’Italia, though perhaps that’s a little unfair given Richie’s steady rise in other races. A third place in the Australian Time Trial Championships behind Michael Rogers and Cameron Meyer was followed by victory in the time trial of the baby Giro. It won’t surprise most to learn then, that Porte’s first love was triathlon. Do those days seem a long time ago now?
Richie Porte: It does seem a long time ago! Nah, I do remember. I was pretty serious about it for around three years. I went ok in non drafting races, but in the drafting stuff I wasn’t that great. I got a bit fed up with it to be honest. I mean it’s a great sport, but even now, I’ve made a much better living out of cycling than I ever would have done in triathlon.
BA: So what was happening? Were you just getting smashed on the run in the drafting races?
RP: Yeah, pretty much. Actually I was. Someone like Craig Walton was incredible in non drafting races. He could win anything, but when the drafting races came in it all changed and he couldn’t win a thing. And I realised that I wasn’t as good as he was, so if he was having trouble then it was time to get out.
BA: You were specialising at the Olympic distance?
RP: I was. I was young and that was the way I wanted to go. But now one of my best friends, a guy called Joe Gambles, just made the podium at the Worlds in the 90.3 and I think that’s the way it’s going. That’s the most prestigious. At the time I wasn’t really interested in racing at the Olympics, I was trying to get a professional licence. But coming from Tasmania doesn’t really help with that sort of thing. You really need to be up on the Gold Coast or somewhere like that.
BA: How did you make the switch then?
RP: Well, Praties was a Tassie team at the time and I used to train with bike riders all the time anyway. And I did a couple of training rides with a guy called Tim Walker and Josh Wilson whose dad in my opinion, is one of the best pros to come out of Australia, just no one knows about him, and they passed my name forward to Andrew Christian-Johnson. Then the next thing I knew I had a bike given to me and I was off to the Canberra Tour and I got my arse absolutely kicked. (Laughs) It was a difficult transition because sure, I could do a good time trial, but on the race, what’s the name of that last climb? The Three Sisters? Out Uriarra and Cotter way. I’d get to there with the bunch and suddenly have six minutes put into me!
At that time Praties was one of several Australian teams racing on the Continental circuit and Porte raced with them in 2007 and early 2008 before heading to the Monsummanese Grassi Mapei amateur Italian team, whose director was none other than Andrea Tafi. This was a period of intense learning for Richie. The Italian amateur scene is a tough one, working on the school of hard knocks philosophy and talking to Richie you get the impression that having Tafi around as a mentor is something he is grateful for.