Richie Porte In Tour de France Podium Finish
by Stephanie Williams
Richie Porte has taken out third place in the 2020 Tour de France, being only the second Australian to grace the podium in the race’s history. The race, rumoured to be one of his last, was extra challenging for Richie who missed the birth of his second child Eloise while racing. Having grown up in Launceston, cyclist Richie Porte will now go down in the history books as the first Tasmanian to achieve a podium finish in le Tour.
What role has your Tassie childhood played in your life?
I think coming from Tassie I didn’t really realise at the time how privileged you are to live in a place like that, that is so relaxed and natural, and people are generally so down to earth. There’s a lot of good people there. I remember the happy memories of growing up on the east coast on our shack, obviously I grew up in Launceston, but I spent a lot of time on the East Coast and they’re some of the best memories I have, still to this day.
How did you get into cycling?
I was doing triathlon and went as far as I think I would have with that. I enjoyed the cycling the most, I was knocking around with cyclists at the time and the next thing a few months later I was riding with the Praties team based out of Hobart with Andrew Christie-Johnson and Steve Price who still run that team.
Was the decision to leave Tassie for Europe a hard one or a natural progression?
It was probably a natural progression, if you want to make a career out of cycling you have to move to Europe as that’s where the biggest races are. So that was always the goal. Of course it was hard to leave Tassie the first time, I was a pretty young man to be honest then to move to Italy. As much as I love Italy, it was a massive culture shock. Of course, you don’t have your family around and you’re on the opposite side of the world, but I think it was a good decision and it’s not something I regret.
"Covid has turned everything upside down, but at the end of the day cycling is a game compared to life."
You split your time between Tassie and Europe. Where are you based in each place?
When I’m in Tassie, normally a month or so each year, I’m in Launceston. I grew up just outside of Launceston and my family are all pretty much still there. When I’m in Europe my home is in Monaco, it’s been that way for over 10 years. Monaco compared to Launceston is like chalk and cheese. Monaco is about 36,000 people in two square kilometres, obviously it’s got some of the most beautiful environment around it, it’s a scenic location but it’s the absolute opposite to Tassie. I can be outside the door in Launceston and 15 minutes later I’m away from all the cars and traffic lights. In Monaco any way I go there’s traffic lights. I laugh about this with my wife, when I grew up, I never dreamed that I would have to take an elevator and then go through two security doors to get out and ride my bike. It’s a bit weird coming from Tassie but you get used to it.
What has been your career highlight, so far?
Winning races like Paris-Nice, Tour de Suisse or Tour de Romandie. Outside of the Grand Tours are probably the biggest ones. Also, riding in three Tour de France winning teams was pretty special as well.
You took out the Santos Tour Down Under earlier this year for the second time. How does the race sit, in terms of importance, on the international calendar?
It’s the first World Tour race of the year and it’s only getting bigger and bigger. It’s a great way to start the season and being World Tour level, every rider wants to win. It’s a big motivation being from Australia and being able to race on home soil and have the support of the crowd. I think it’s one of the favourite races of everyone that goes there. It’s also one of the best organised races, and the crowds on Willunga Hill are just like racing in Europe at a Tour stage. It’s like an amphitheatre, the noise going up there is just incredible.
How has Covid-19 changed things for you?
Like everyone, Covid has changed everything. The Tour was scheduled to be finishing now, in July, and then hopefully I would have been going to the Tokyo Olympics. Now, the Tour is scheduled for late August. It’s turned everything upside down, but at the end of the day cycling is a game compared to life. You can’t really complain when you see the toll that Corona has taken on the world.
Your second baby is due at the same time the Tour de France is scheduled. That’s going to mean a fairly hefty ‘push present’ for your wife Gemma isn’t it?!
Normally it would have been a perfectly timed baby, I would have done the Tour and hopefully the Olympics, by which pointthe season is basically over. Now we nd that the baby will be due right in the thick of the Tour. At the end of the day we had to make the decision that the team pay my salary and there aren’t going to be so many Tours de France left for me, I’m in the twilight of my career now. With my wife Gemma’s blessing, I’ll do the Tour de France, but it’s the hardest decision I’ve had to make as a professional athlete and as a father. It will be hard, but at the same time it’s a motivation to go to Tour and not just make the numbers up. I want to actually go there and race hard. Speaking of push presents, Gemma’s pretty easy about it to behonest. When our rst child was born, all that I had to get as apush present was Speculoos, which you can’t get in Australia. It’s kind of like a sweet biscuit spread, a Belgian Vegemite, I guess.
How do you juggle kids and career?
I think having a son is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, but I’m not going to lie, it does make things harder. We’re basi- cally up at 6:30 each morning with him, but you work around that. My wife is very supportive, and she does the lion’s share of the parenting to be honest. At the moment I’m away on a training camp for a couple of weeks. When you get home from a hard ride and just want to sit on the couch, well there’s none of that, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I think in a lot of ways it’s been a good thing to get off the couch and hang out with my son, Luca.
When you’re competing, like in the Tour de France, what does a typical race day look like? How do you back it up day after day for three weeks?
It’s full gas. The stages nish around 5pm for the French TV, andthe thing with Tour is that every day there’s always some drama. The amount of press that’s there is incredible, it’s like a pressure cooker. You get off the bike, onto the bus where we have showers, and then we start the recovery process. That means eating bowls of rice and a bit of protein. Then you either travel by bus or car to get to the hotel, a car is normally quicker. We change hotel basically every night, then we have massages for an hour, see a physio. Like most teams we have a professional chef with us too which is nice. Our chef always cooks good food which makes it easier. Then you’re basically in bed by 10:30pm. In the last week of a Grand Tour you’re so tired that it’s hard to sleep, which is a funny one. You keep doing that all day, every day. It’s no different from any job, it’s what you get paid to do and it’s what I’ve done for nearly half my life, ride a bike. So it’s just that, 21 days in a row.
Do you have any particular places you visit or things you love to do when you get back to Tassie?
My parents still have a shack at Beaumaris but I never really get the chance to go back there. When I’m back in Tassie it’s normally at the start of returning to training, so I really just have to train and stay more around Launceston. I snuck down to Hobart with my wife four years ago to show her the sights. I think Hobart is one of the most beautiful cities around but I haven’t been down there in so long. I enjoy going up and swimming at Windmill Hill pool, I used to work there before I was a professional cyclist. It’s nice to just do the normal things. My son is only two but I can’t wait to show him a different lifestyle to the one that we’re leading right now.
You’ve spent some time cycling up Mount Wellington, even taking Chris Froome to the top. Do you still hold the record?
I never actually raced Chris Froome up Mount Wellington. When he came down to Tassie we did ride it, but we didn’t race. Cadel did it in the Tour of Tassie but that was well before I was racing a bike. Mount Wellington is a famous cycling climb and why shouldn’t it be? It’s comparable to any climb in the alps or Pyrenees, it’s a hard climb, especially towards the top where it’s quite brutal and very exposed. I think I might have the record still from Longley Pub, there used to be a time trial from the pub to the top, but now it’s all about Strava and I haven’t set a fast time on Strava. The saying is ‘if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen’, but I think the Longley time trial would still have record of that.
Where do you train in Tassie – do you have a secret hill punish track that we should know about?
Pretty much most days I head out around a Scottsdale loop. We head out through Rocherlea, Lilydale and across to Scottsdale then back home. I do it with a fellow Tasmanian, Will Clarke, who also rides for Trek-Segafredo, and a few other guys. There are a couple of climbs on that where I know where to test myself and see if I’m going well. That’s on a climb out of Lilydale called Grandfields, it’s a brutal 3.5km climb and it’s very steep, and also the Sideling which is about 6.5km and one of my favourite climbs around. When I’m back in Tassie I can tell how well I’m going based on the times I do on those two climbs. Obviously, Launceston doesn’t have a Mount Wellington which is unfortunate. We do have Poatina, but it’s not the greatest ride out there, though it is a super climb.
While we hope retirement isn’t on the cards just yet, when you do retire, what do you hope to do?
Hopefully I’ve got a couple more years left in the legs. I’m not really sure what I’ll do for work, hopefully a job that I really enjoy. I love professional cycling, but it is a stressful job at the best of times. It is a privilege to ride a bike for a living. I’ve got three brothers and my dad who were all tradesmen, so I realise that the financial side of things and the lifestyle we lead is a privileged position. My wife is from Manchester, UK, and I like it there as well so we’re not really sure where we’ll end up. I think from the point of view for kids, there’s no place better in the world to raise kids than Tassie. I’m not really sure, I’ve got a few more years before we cross that bridge, but it’s exciting also in some ways to look at retirement and having a lot less stress in my life.
Any hot tips for young (and older!) cyclists?
For kids, just enjoy it, try to keep it safe. For older cyclists, the same thing really. If it’s not your job, then just enjoy yourself and try and take in some of the scenery. It’s a hard sport but there’s so many beautiful things about it and I think that’s still one of the things for me that I enjoy, just to get out into the mountains and enjoy the scenes around, it makes every day an absolute joy.
Watch Richie compete in the Tour de France on SBS from 29th August until 20th September.