When PEZ first started talking to Richie Porte about setting up a time to do an interview, the 24 year old was just getting ready to leave for the Giro delle Valli Cuneesi. Porte won the opening stage of the race, and wore the leaderпїЅs white jersey for two days before dropping to fourth overall: the position he held until the finish, along with the grey jersey of best foreign rider.
Richie Porte is having a breakout year in Italy.
Then, the day before we actually had our sit down and chat, Porte chalked up another victory at the G.P. CittпїЅ di Felino.
PEZ: First off, congratulations on your recent results, you must be pretty happy with the way everything has been going?
Thanks. Yeah, this year things have really clicked and IпїЅm really enjoying racing with this team.
PEZ: Your sports director on your team is former Italian champion and Tour of Flanders winner Andrea Tafi. That must be a bit of a help when it comes to talking race tactics?
Tafi is amazing. He is brilliant to work with and this year when he changed teams, he brought me over with him to Monsummanese Bedogni Grassi which I really appreciated. IпїЅve been able to learn so much from him at the races and whenever heпїЅs in the car, I always seem to ride better.
PEZ: How are things with the language. Does having some degree of fluency help in the team?
IпїЅm not going too bad, but understanding it when you are standing around talking and trying to decipher whatпїЅs being said over the team radio when you are flat out racing are two completely different things. When Tafi is on the races, he usually speaks to me in English over the radio, so that helps a bit too.
PEZ: Can you give us a bit of an insight into what things are like living overseas? The stories of unheated basements in Belgium are the stuff of legend, whatпїЅs it like in Italy?
As IпїЅm with a pretty big team we actually get really well looked after. I live together with several of my other team mates in a house provided by the team and we have all of our meals cooked for us each evening and the place is cleaned for us too. ItпїЅs an excellent set up. Of course we get all of our race clothing and bikes provided too and the team transports us to the races. We just have to concentrate on riding our bikes as fast as we can.
PEZ: So how did you come to be at such a professionally run team? Did you just pack your bags in Tasmania and come over and hope for the best?
Back in 2007 a friend from Tasmania, Josh Wilson [whose father Michael was AustraliaпїЅs first ever stage winner at the Giro dпїЅItalia back in 1982] was over here racing and suggested I come and try it out, so I came over mid season and things went OK.
PEZ: пїЅWent OKпїЅ meaning you won a race almost straight off the plane?
Yeah, when I arrived in Italy, the first thing everyone at the team told me was I was too fat and had to lose weight [think пїЅnot anorexic Italian climberпїЅ too fat, rather than пїЅcouch potatoпїЅ too fat]. Then, in that first race, I attacked and got away and won alone on a pretty tough finishing climb. I guess it turned a few heads.
PEZ: How did you end up with Andrea Tafi? Was it these early successes that got you noticed?
Near to where I was living there is Journalist by the name of Stefano Fiori who has written for Australian cycling magazines and sort of keeps an eye out for Aussies here in Italy. T was through him that I had the contact with Tafi and like Brett Lancaster, Stefano has really been a big help to me in my time over here.
PEZ: So with a taste of success in 2007, 2008 started as a fantastic year for you with a 5th place in the time trial at the Australian Open road Championships, which you backed up with a fourth place in the road race. How did things develop from there?
Matt Lloyd (Lotto) won the road race ahead of Adam Hansen and Rory Sutherland and the first rider home, who doesnпїЅt already have a start with their pro team, gets a spot on the national team for the Tour Down Under. Luckily for me Rory Sutherland couldnпїЅt race due to team committments, so as the next guy I got the nod. I had a really good ride at the Tour Down Under with the Uni SA team, finishing 9th overall.
PEZ: So as a top ten finisher in a ProTour stage race, you must have had some interest from teams?
[laughing] No, nothing
PEZ: So then it was pack up the bike and head back to Italy?
Yeah I went back to Italy and things just started to go wrong for me with my riding and training. After a month or so, I was actually ready to pack it all in and head back to Australia. I was in a local bike shop one day and this woman was in there and it turned out she was Australian. We got chatting and I found out her husband was Aussie pro Brett Lancaster and she invited me over for dinner and from that moment on, they pretty much adopted me.
BrettпїЅs been so incredible to me and if it wasnпїЅt for meeting them, I would have packed up and come home for sure.
PEZ: Was it daunting when you first went over to their house? Does Brett have his pink jersey from the Giro up on the wall?
No BrettпїЅs not into that stuff at all. In fact if it wasnпїЅt for his CervпїЅlo leaning against the wall, you wouldnпїЅt even know he was a bike rider. HeпїЅs the most down to earth guy youпїЅd ever meet.
PEZ: So from a chance meeting, things started to go well again?
Things were going great until I crashed a few weeks later and broke my hip. I stayed in Italy while it healed and then got back into the racing at the end of the season.
PEZ: Have there been any lasting effects from your broken hip?
Physically no, but when I came home to Australia at the end of the season, I had pretty good form and I raced the SunTour in Victoria. I finished fifth overall but really stuffed things up on one stage where I lost my nerve on a descent and got dropped from the front group. IпїЅd done all the hard work on the climb, but going down the hill to the finish, I kept thinking about the crash that basically cost me my season.
Porte still finished fifth overall though, so two top tens in AustraliaпїЅs two biggest stage races wasn’t too bad
PEZ: Have you mastered your пїЅdescending issuesпїЅ and if so how?
Yeah, itпїЅs no problem now. Just lots and lots of practise and plenty of racing. When the pressure is on now, I donпїЅt even think about it.
PEZ: You also won your пїЅHome TownпїЅпїЅ race that year too.
I rode the Tour of Tasmania and the Sun Tour with the Praties Team, which is a squad from Tassie. They were awesome and despite the fact that IпїЅd been overseas the whole year and they had all been racing at home looking forward to their home tour, they put it on the line for me and helped me to two stage wins and the GC.
The great thing about that team is its run by two guys, Andrew Christie Johnston and Steve Price, who are ex riders who put their own money into the team and just enjoy doing it. TheyпїЅve given me some great opportunities to race in Australia too, which has helped prepare me for my season in Europe.
PEZ: This year you really seem to have put it all together. You started the year on the podium with triple world champion Mick Rogers at the Australian time trial championships and things have just gone on from there.
I think having such a great team behind me this year has really made the difference. As well as doing all of the bigger races here in Italy, we have a team that can ride well to defend a lead as well. For example at the Giro delle Valli Cuneesi, I took the lead on the first day and the whole team rode to defend it and then to try and help me get it back after I cracked with a пїЅkayпїЅ to go on the toughest stage.
There were guys on the squad, Italian guys, who could have been chasing their own glory, trying to improve their own chances of a pro contract next year, but they laid it on the line for me. A good team like that makes all the difference.
PEZ: At Valli Cuneesi you ended up fourth with the Best Foreign RiderпїЅs jersey, you also made your mark earlier in the season at the baby Giro. How did things go there?
The BabyGiro was a massive race for us, but unfortunately I missed a crucial break early so the GC hopes took a bit of a hit. Then, in the time trial stage I just gave it everything and beat the under 23 time trial World Champ, Adriano Malori by a tenth of a second.
Richie is what one could call, fast, on a time trial bike.
The race itself was an experience as it was returning after a year or two off the calendar with the organisers really trying to make a statement about clean cycling. For some of the stages we all bunked down together in large hostels, which was a bit different!
PEZ: YouпїЅve had some pretty strong results this year and reading the Italian websites and magazines, they rate you as one of the top foreign riders in the country this year. Any sign of it developing into a contract for next year?
There was one stage a week or so ago that I thought I was about to sign something but then after lots of phone calls back and forth, nothing came of it. IпїЅve got Tafi working on it for me still, but no, I donпїЅt have a couple of contracts sitting at home waiting for me to make my decision on!
PEZ: Is it frustrating when you see other guys that you race and have beaten, being snapped up by the Italian professional teams?
A little bit, but my results are there and itпїЅs not the end of the season yet, although it has been pretty stressful over the past few weeks thinking that something was happening and then nothing.
PEZ: The usual path from Australia to Europe and then into the professional ranks is via the Australian Institute of Sport Program. YouпїЅre doing it by yourself, is that a bigger challenge?
Well, IпїЅm not actually in the program, but Shayne Bannan has been really helpful to me over the past two years. There were a couple of times when issues came up with red tape here in Italy and he was able to help me out straight away. HeпїЅs also been really good with advice and I know I can call him if I have questions on anything.
PEZ: What about the rest of the season for you, whatпїЅs coming up? Worlds, back to Australia for races?
Well the пїЅlong teamпїЅ, from which the Australian team is selected for the road race in Mendrisio is announced soon [Tuesday Sept 1] and it would be fantastic just to make it onto that list.
Sharing the podium with Michael Rogers and Cameron Meyer wasn’t a bad way to open up 2009.
Our team also have a home race in Monsummanese that no one from the team has ever won before and there is a lot of pressure on us to get a good result there. After that IпїЅll head back to Australia and put my hat into the ring for one of the spots on the National Team to ride the Sun Tour. I really like that race and IпїЅd like to get a good result there and maybe even win it one day.
PEZ: So, at the moment, thereпїЅs a pretty healthy representation of Tasmanian cyclists with professional contracts. ThereпїЅs Matt Goss, Wes Sulzberger and Cameron Wurf in the the ProTour ranks, Karl Menzies, Bernard Sulzberger, Caleb Manion and Matt Rice in the US amongst others. Will Richie Porte be the next пїЅTassie Boy made goodпїЅ?
[lauging] Ah, letпїЅs hope so! IпїЅll just keep doing what IпїЅve been doing and trying to build my results. IпїЅve got a couple of people working on things for me, but IпїЅm definitely still open to offers. WeпїЅll see.
PEZ thanks Richie for his time and wishes him the best of luck for the rest of the season here in Italy and also with his пїЅnext big stepпїЅ for 2010. If youпїЅre down in Monsummano Terme in Tuscany, you can always join Richie and Brett for a ride around The Big Dog Loop: 220km with 3600m of climbing. It sure sounds like a nice day out on the bike!
A big пїЅThanksпїЅ to the organisers of the Giro delle Valli Cuneesi and to Praties Cycling for supplying photos to go with this interview.