To be at the top of cycling means giving up a lot.
Tasmanian-born Richie Porte has experienced a lifetime of sacrifice from the age of 21, when he decided to leave his hometown and move to Italy. But that was just the start of becoming familiar with having to make those difficult choices. Chasing his dream of riding the world’s biggest bike race, the Tour de France, means continually making sacrifices day-in-day-out.
For many professional cyclists, sacrifice comes in many guises – whether it’s leaving their family home behind and moving across the other side of the world, missing the birth of a child, or giving up their own chances of winning a race, and turning themselves inside out so their teammate has the privilege of standing on the podium instead. Porte can testify to experiencing them all.
What was your first memory of the Tour de France?
What was your first memory of the Tour de France?
My first memory of the Tour is from the late 90s. I remember when the Australian guys came on the scene, and looked up to guys like O’Grady, McEwan, Cooke. Them going for the green jersey and ripping the race up. That’s when we started taking more interest in the Tour, because when those guys started doing so well you wanted to tune in to see it, even though cycling isn’t a mainstream sport in Australia. There would be this 30 minutes highlight package that you’d watch and it was quite a spectacle to see, so I kinda got hooked. I wasn’t riding my bike though then, I was just watching the highlights and realised that I enjoyed it.
What did it feel like to leave your family and move across the other side of the world?
It’s a huge sacrifice, when you look at European cyclists, like in France or Italy or Spain, they can live at home, but for us, Australians, Kiwis or Americans, it’s takes a lot to uproot your life where you are happy, I mean how can you not be happy living in Australia and you’re surrounded by your family? To make that move was huge.
I remember saying to my Mum and Dad at the time that I wanted to move to Italy to ride my bike, I was working as a pool lifeguard so I didn’t have much money. Luckily Mum and Dad were in a position to make it happen. But when I got there it was a massive culture shock. It was my first time in Europe, there was the language barrier, and I had to adapt to a totally different lifestyle to what I was used to in Australia. It was one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do. I loved the challenge, and it was a huge challenge, especially racing against the guys in Italy. A lot of the guys were turning professional, and at the time, the Italian cycling scene was one of the toughest going, but it put me in a good place.
I knew that I couldn’t just go to the Tour to make up numbers, I had to keep fighting and make it all worthwhile.
You’re now living over in Monaco, where your partner and family live. I guess you then go from one sacrifice to another one, how do you cope with being away from your family while racing?
For me the ultimate sacrifice was last year when the Tour got moved which meant missing the birth of our second child. I'm lucky that I have a supportive wife who gave me the green light to go and race, and I had my best Tour I’ve ever had. But once you have kids it is the best perspective giver on life, it makes you realise that cycling isn’t the be-all and end-all, my wife and my two kids are number one. I think it makes you grow up pretty quickly when you have kids, and then last year missing the birth of my daughter, I knew that I couldn’t just go to the Tour to make up numbers, I had to keep fighting and make it all worthwhile.
When you go to the Tour, what is it that makes it worth all the sacrifice?
I think the thing for me that always remains, or most of the time, is the fact that I still really enjoy riding my bike. I think even when I retire I’ll still really enjoy it, and that’s key. I have three brothers and they’re all tradies, so we lead completely different lives, and it’s been a brilliant job riding my bike for a living and getting to see the world. That’s something that I’ve never lost sight of.
When you’re in a team, there are moments when everyone works for another rider so they have the potential to take the win. Can you describe what that feels like in a team dynamic like that?
I think having ridden with this team when it was Team Sky and having gone to the Tour and winning it with Bradley and with Chris. It’s one of the most incredible feelings riding your bike onto the Champs-Élysées with the yellow jersey in the team; apart from last year riding in and knowing that I was going to be on the podium, obviously that was a massive highlight personally, but when you have the yellow jersey and you can really enjoy it, nothing really beats that.
Then for me, winning the Dauphine this year, and having a team that was committed to me, it’s a unique part of the sport, when you have massive champions, like G, and they’re prepared to give back as well, to make a dream come true for me, that’s the sort of thing that money can’t buy. And of course now I want to go to the Tour and pay that favour back and help G for what he did on the Joux-Plane, when he rode his absolute guts out to make that happen for me, just the loyalty that there is in this team is pretty incredible.