As Aussie cycling fans we hate to say it. But, as we feared could happen a month or so ago, could the main thing we’ve learned about Richie Porte from this year’s aborted Giro d’Italia campaign be that he’s good – but perhaps not quite good enough, or durable enough, to stand at the very summit of world cycling in his own right?
With echoes of the situation encountered by Mark Renshaw when Cav’s extraordinarily successful lead-out man went to Rabobank/Belkin to chase his own sprinting opportunities in 2012-13, and came up just short, it’s beginning to seem Porte’s finest moments on two wheels are typically reserved for when he’s working in the service of others in his role as a super domestique.
This is not to say the likeable, but reportedly complex to manage on occasion, Tasmanian isn’t a fine rider. He clearly is, and certainly has several plumb results to show for it, most notably dual successes in ‘the race to sun’, Paris-Nice. But as also evidenced on many occasions in the past few seasons, his best efforts seem to come when the spotlight is shining less brightly and/or elsewhere.
For example, he’s been tantalisingly close on overall GC at the past two stagings of the Santos Tour Down Under – especially this year – but not quite close enough. Up against the numerical might of Orica-GreenEDGE he’s also been very close to the top step in two of the past four National Championship road races, but has instead had to settle for a solitary green and gold skinsuit as 2015 ITT Champion – an event where, perhaps not coincidently, others such as Bobridge, Dennis and Durbridge were prominent in pre-race discussions. Before his ill-fated 2015 attempt on the maglia rosa, his much-anticipated tilt at the 2014 Giro was abandoned before it even began. Then two months later when Chris Froome crashed out on Stage 5 of the 2014 Tour de France, presenting a gilt-edged ‘Plan B’ opportunity on the biggest stage of all, Porte was a shadow of the powerhouse he’d been in the previous two instalments when riding first for Brad Wiggins and then Chris Froome. Struggling with illness he laboured to Paris in 22nd, almost an hour behind the overall GC winner, Vincenzo Nibali. His best-ever finish in a Grand Tour, by a clear margin, remains his very first – 7th in the 2010 Giro.
Yes, he’s suffered from illness. Yes, he’s had crashes. And yes, he’s certainly had more than his share of bad luck – seriously, who could have foreseen the wheel change fiasco and subsequent two-minute penalty involving his well-meaning countryman Simon Clarke in week one of the Giro? But whatever the specific instances, something all-too-often does seem to happen to Porte. That he’s fast becoming something of a bad luck magnet must be cause for tremendous frustration for Porte himself and his well-paying masters on the Death Star at Team Sky. Oh Richie, what’s happened this time?
Perhaps we’re wrong, but it’s almost as if the added pressure of team leadership shackles Porte, physically and mentally, rather than set him free. Private motorhomes or not, helping him make that final lofty step into the top echelon of GC contenders is proving a tough nut to crack, and no doubt Brailsford, Ellingworth, Kerrison and Co are working hard to crack it. Now in his thirties Porte’s time isn’t up just yet, but like the finishing gantry in a time trial the clock is certainly ticking. Mind you, a decade ago people were no doubt saying similar things about another guy called Cadel Evans…