playing virtual giro on velogames and he is my main hope – this article is quite cool.
Team Sky go into battle in Italy this month with Richie Porte a contender for the pink jersey. Chris Froome’s most trusted lieutenant has turned general this year, leading Team Sky from the front to take several stage race wins since the start of the season. Rapha sat down with the Australian to talk leadership, the sweet taste of victory and war stories from the road.
Hi Richie. You’ve had a brilliant start to the season, how does it feel?
It’s been more than I’d hoped for, especially after last season – the disaster that that was. To be honest, it’s quite surreal how well this season has gone so far. It’s always nice to win races like Paris-Nice, Catalunya and the Willunga stage of the Tour Down Under, but to be honest that all counts for nothing. The Giro is my big goal and that’s where I want to be at my best.
You have been in superb form since January. Is there ever a worry that you may have peaked early?
It’s not really difficult for me and that’s because we’ve got guys like Tim Kerrison and the [Team Sky] Performance Team behind us. I think Tim’s been fantastic with Brad [Wiggins] and Chris [Froome] over the years regarding when they’ve peaked and so I take confidence from that. I’m much more motivated this season than I have been in the past, and the Giro is my big opportunity to lead a team. I’m going to take that opportunity with both hands.
Why are you more motivated this year?
After you have a bad season, you look back on that and then think about how good it feels to win a race. It’s just an unbelievable feeling – for me that’s my motivation. To win any race is hard, but to have eight or nine victories like I have so far… it’s contagious.
After winning the Volta a Catalunya in March, you spoke about it giving you greater belief in yourself. Has confidence ever been a problem for you?
Confidence is a massive part of professional cycling. I’m confident in my ability, but to go to a race like Catalunya, which on paper wasn’t that great for me, up against someone in form like [Alejandro] Valverde, isn’t easy. And to win there, where I’ve only really got bad memories, it is a massive bonus for the morale.
How do you find being the team leader at races?
I wouldn’t say it is something that comes naturally to me but I’d say that over the years I’ve worked with some fantastic leaders, from Alberto [Contador] and the Schleck brothers when I was with Saxo, to Bradley in 2012 and Chris in 2013. I’m more used to riding for somebody, but with the steps I’ve taken this year I’ve embraced having those seven or eight guys commit to me.
How would you describe yourself as a leader?
Probably a little bit more stressed than Chris! Obviously he is very laid back, and so was Brad. I’m not sure what the other guys would say but I don’t think I’m that hard to work for! I like to hit the front and race from there. At the end of the day, in any team it’s easier to work for a guy who is finishing it off and winning. My big goal going into the Giro is obviously to go for as high a GC as I can get.
The 2010 edition of the race, when you wore the pink jersey for three days, must hold fond memories for you?
To grow up watching the Giro and then to be in that massive break where for 200km I realised that I was going to be in the pink jersey as long as I kept it upright and not get dropped – it still gives me goose bumps to think about it. Other than the yellow jersey I think the pink jersey is probably the most beautiful one to wear in professional cycling.
Do you enjoy riding in Italy?
Italy is where I did my amateur days – I moved there from Australia in 2007. I like the way the Italians do it. When we stay in Italy for races, at the hotels they take such pride in their food and their coffee and that mixes so well with cycling. Even though I live in Monaco I find I often ride into Italy for the coffee, the piadini and the focaccias. I just love it – it’s so simple, but it works.
Are there any Italian riders, past or present, that you particularly enjoy watching?
You’d probably look back to Basso in the CSC days, with the class he used to ride with. Either that or Paolo Savoldelli – I used to love watching him, the way he used to go down the descents like a lead balloon. Someone who I also loved watching, although he’s not Italian, is Michael Wilson. He was the first Aussie winner of a stage of the Giro – a real trailblazer – and he had a massive influence on me. I saw Rapha did a film about him in my hometown of Launceston and it was almost emotional to watch because from where I’m from, almost nobody knows who Michael is and what he’s done. He’s such a humble champ.
Who do you think will be your main rivals this year?
I think it’s Contador’s race to lose. He’s the guy that has won the race before and I think he’s motivated. There are other guys like [Fabio] Aru or Rigoberto [Uran], my old team mate. He’s been second two years in a row so he knows what he’s doing. He’s such a cool champion too – I respect him and look forward to racing against him.
How will you unwind post-stage to take your mind off the racing?
I love it on the bus afterwards. That’s your mental break: you get on the bus, have your shower, eat and talk to your teammates. Somebody has always got a story, a near miss, or an argument they had with another rider – I love it. Then obviously at the dinner table it’s good to hear some of the war stories. I love listening to Bernie (Eisel), Brad (Wiggins) and Mick Rogers when he was on our team, talking about the days of suffering they’ve had at the grand tours.
If you win, how much celebrating will you do before thoughts turn to July?
I’ve got a good mate and his wife coming to stay with me and my fiancée for a few days so I’m sure there would be some pretty big celebrations. After the Giro I’m off to Manchester for ten days because that’s where my fiancée is from and I’m really looking forward to using that as my recovery period. Then it’s all eyes on the Tour!