Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) might be heading into his final European road season, but the veteran Australian has no desire to simply close out his long career without a few more fireworks.
Top of Porte’s wishlist for 2022 is to win a final race and put in several key supportive performances, but the 2021 Critérium du Dauphiné winner is also tipping his teammate Geraint Thomas for a standout ride at the Tour de France.
Ineos Grenadiers’ Tour de France leadership is sadly up in the air after Egan Bernal’s horrific training crash in late January, and while it’s far too early to speculate on his future – and everyone hopes that the Colombian can make a full recovery – the fact is that Thomas was already penciled in for the Tour.
The Welshman won the race back in 2018, a year before Bernal’s grand tour breakthrough, and the 35-year-old was in fine form before crashing in the opening week of last year’s race. Thomas signed a two-year contract with Ineos in the winter, and Porte believes that his teammate is far from finished when it comes to the grand tours.
“Geraint Thomas isn’t done. I think he’ll be good at the Tour,” Porte told VeloNews from his home in Australia.
“He’s won it before, and he’s a mate, but being up close to him last year, he was super professional and motivated. The stars will align for him again and he can do a bit of everything. Last year he was time trialing really well, he won Romandie, finished third in the Dauphine and he was in great form. Had he not had that crash in the Tour, then who knows. I was behind him, and I would have probably stayed down if it had been me, it was a big one and he really put his shoulder out. He’s got some fire in him again and he’s motivated, so he’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) will head to the Tour de France as the undisputed favorite after winning back-to-back editions of the race in 2020 and 2021, and Porte acknowledged the Slovenian’s dominance having raced against him through both of those Tours, but he still believes that Thomas could yet be a factor in the overall.
“When he’s in tip-top shape I think Pogačar is in a league of his own but when Geraint is lean, and he’s motivated, then he’s as good as anybody,” he said.
The Italian job
The first half of Porte’s 2022 campaign will focus on an Italian-heavy race program. He kicked off his year with the Santos Festival of Cycling but he will return to Europe within the next fortnight before lining up at Trofeo Laiguelia at the start of March.
“Then I have to Tirreno, Catalunya, the Tour of the Alps and then the Giro d’Italia. I don’t think that I have a French race on my calendar and I’m looking forward to having July at home instead of racing the Tour,” he said.
His final grand tour outing will revolve around supporting team leader and former Giro winner Richard Carapaz. The Olympic road race champion will face-off against the likes of Simon Yates and Tom Dumoulin, and Porte is ready for the challenge as he heads back to the race that saw him breakthrough with a memorable performance in 2010.
“You can’t go to the Giro without ambition, but Carapaz has won the race and he’s done so in impressive fashion. He was on the podium at the Tour last year too, so we’ll go there, and he’ll be the standout leader,” Porte said.
“I think that’s the path that we’ll take. For me, I’d like to go back to a grand tour and be part of a winning team. That would be something special and it’s an aim that gives me a lot of motivation. The Giro feels like the right grand tour for me to close things out on. That’s where it all started for me, and I did a lot of my amateur racing in Italy too. It’s an enjoyable Grand Tour, and probably the most enjoyable grand tour. It’s a cool country and the fans are awesome, so it’s a nice swansong for me.”
Porte returned to Ineos Grenadiers at the start of 2021 after stints at BMC Racing and Trek-Segafredo.
He enjoyed huge success during his first stint on the British team and was a key component in Bradley Wiggins’ and Chris Froome’s early Tour de France victories. Retirement is not something Porte has taken lightly but with a young family and plans to permanently return to Australia, he feels that the right call has been made when it comes to hanging up his wheels.
“There’s a part of me that knows that this year is the right time to pull up stumps and end my career as a pro rider but there are still bits of cycling that I’ll really miss,” he said. “I’ve met some brilliant people through the years, but I do look forward to a normal life where you don’t have to make so many sacrifices with your family, like living all the way across the other side of the world. It’ll be nice to settle into a normal life. I want to do things like take the kids to school, walk the dog, and have my weekends back.”
Porte’s final race in 2022 will be the Tour of Britain but until then the plan is to focus on racing and remain competitive. Age wasn’t a factor last year, and it’s less than two years since the Australian stood on the podium at the Tour de France, so one more major victory could well be within his grasp.
“I’d like to be competitive in my final year. Winning the Dauphiné as a 36-year-old was pretty cool and I always wanted to win that. I’m 37 but other than Alejandro Valverde there aren’t many guys who win races in their twilight years, so it will be cool to have one more victory.”