Regardless of his performance at this year’s Tour de France, Richie Porte would go on to become one of Australian cycling greats.
The Tasmanian has competed with the best in the world for over a decade and was part of a Tour de France dynasty as recently as 2015.
He scored two overall Tour Down Under victories, in 2017 and 2020, and won his first stage each year from 2014 to 2019.
But as Porte (and every other cyclist in the world) know, Willunga Hill is not the Pyrenees – not by geography, elevation or, most importantly, prestige.
“No matter what races you’ve won, the Tour is the one you’re judged on,” he said after securing third place in this year’s Tour de France.
A few years ago, it seemed like time was the only thing between him and Porte to come within the scope of this photo, but over the years it has become painfully clear that nothing was certain.
An overqualified back-up
Porte was marked as a star of the future after finishing seventh in his debut Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, in 2010 and winning the young rider classification of the race at 25.
Consistently impressive performances in small races led him to be taken over by the new British team Sky Procycling, who led the world of cycling for the next half decade.
During his time with Sky from 2012 to 2015, the team included three Tour de France champions – Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas – as well as sprint superstar Mark Cavendish.
These massive names helped the team grow into the heavyweight who won eight of the nine Tour de France titles from 2012 to 2019, but in such a big pond even a big fish can get lost.
Wiggins and Froome were on the first two steps of the podium in Paris, while Porte finished 35th overall. The following year, Froome propelled the first of his four yellow jerseys, Porte being the team’s next best finisher, 19th.
He was what was called a ‘super maid’ – a title that recognizes that a rider is good enough to compete at the top of the list, but their job for now is to support their team’s biggest gun ( ie Porte was Scottie Pippen to Michael Froome (Jordan).
So when Froome crashed on the fifth stage of the 2014 Tour, Sky redirected his efforts to make Porte, who had become the first Australian to win the famous Paris-Nice the previous year, the team manager .
Sadly 2014 was the worst possible year for the Australian to be invited to lead the team.
The illness had forced him to withdraw from a series of races across Europe, including the Giro d’Italia, to start the year and he was not in top physical shape as the season approached. France.
Despite this, he was in the top five after the first high mountain arrival of Stage 10, but it all fell apart when he lost more than eight minutes to eventual champion Vincenzo Nibali in the sweltering heat during the 13th stage.
Porte eventually finished 23rd overall and was diagnosed with pneumonia later that year.
He left Sky to try and forge his own path after helping Froome don another yellow jersey in 2015, and unlike many other Super Servants, he said he left with no ill will towards the team or them. people employed by them.
He even married one of them.
Proving he’s good enough to lead
After being a key cog in a winning machine, Porte’s next move was to try and win the Tour with BMC, just like compatriot Cadel Evans did in 2011.
Career progression seemed on track as he was in the mix on a series of major races to start 2016, and although he was held at bay by Sky as Froome won for the third time in 2016, Porte’s fifth place suggested he was one of the next in line.
But it’s never that easy in cycling.
The victories in the Tour Down Under (2017), the Tour de Romandie (2017) and the Tour de Suisse (2018) and pre-race favoritism counted for little as his next two trips to France brought him DNF thanks to nasty accidents, one of which left him with a broken collarbone and hip.
After proving his abilities as a team leader with BMC, he left and joined another US team, Trek-Segafredo, for the 2019 season.
But, just like Alberto Contador who got a head start after Andy Schleck’s chain crash in the 2010 Tour, time waits for no one and Porte was days away from his 34th birthday when he signed with Trek. .
Only four riders have won the Tour de France after turning 34, and Evans has been the only one to do so since 1948, so it was reasonable to wonder if Porte still had a serious challenge in him.
But he continued to roll.
The runner-up of the 2019 Tour Down Under was improved with another overall victory this year, with a top five at the Tour of California and multiple stage and GC challenges at the Criterium du Dauphine keeping it on everyone’s mind. the world, and he just missed the top 10 at last year’s Tour de France.
Even so, when the 35-year-old arrived for his 10th Tour de France this year, he was not seen as a major threat.
The only reason he was Trek’s leader in the race was because his teammate and 2014 winner Vincenzo Nibali stepped down to focus on the Olympics and his home, the Giro d’Italia.
But since the early days, Porte has never been out of the mix.
He finished 14th in the fourth stage to climb to 16th place overall and has not dropped below 20th place overall since then, climbing steadily up the standings like an ascent of the Alps.
Ninth of the ninth stage, third of the 15th stage, fifth and sixth of the 17 and 18, then, just like Evans did nine years ago, he produced a race of composure in the counter-la- high pressure watch to jump into this important. last place.
2020 may be the last time we see him seriously challenging in a Grand Tour or even racing as a team manager, and he would have been wrong to see him come close so often during a decade of professional racing. and not to end up with a Parisian. podium in his name.