The 2022 season has been a year of lasts for Richie Porte.
Last grand tour, last season in the pro ranks, and on Sunday his last outing as a professional bike rider. After a career spanning three decades and 17 grand tours, it’s time for the 37-year-old to hang up his wheels.
A hectic life on the road is about to wind down, and while plans for next year have not yet been finalized there are at least a handful of certainties ahead for the veteran.
“You know, I still enjoy riding my bike. I love that aspect of it,” Porte tells VeloNews as he packs his last race at the Tour of Britain.
“It’s just that I don’t enjoy the racing aspect of it as much. For sure I’m going to keep riding my bike after I retire. It’s been my life and I’m not going to be one of those riders who just parks up the bike in the shed and doesn’t touch it again. It will be nice to enjoy it again, not have a power meter, and just ride my bike for the reasons that I did when I first started out, which was because I loved doing it.”
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It’s been a long time since Porte has been able to ride just for the love of it. A former triathlete, he turned pro with Bjarne Riis’s Saxo Bank team after a meteoric rise in 2010 and never looked back. The incredible trajectory continued during his maiden season in the WorldTour with a long stint in the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia, and since those heady days Porte has barely had a moment to reflect.
It’s been a career of incredible highs; from being the best week-long stage race on the planet between 2013 to 2018 to finally cracking the Tour de France podium in 2020. The lows have been just as dramatic, with heavy crashes wrecking Tour de France bids in consecutive seasons but his palmarès remain an incredible body of work in terms of both breadth and consistency.
Two editions of Paris-Nice, a Dauphine, a Tour de Suisse, a Catalunya, a Romandie, two editions of his home race, the Tour de Down Under, and eight stages along the way. He may not have reached the level of Cadel Evans or Jai Hindley over three weeks but Porte has enjoyed a career that only a handful of riders can even aspire to reach.
Scratch the surface though and you get a deeper appreciation of what his longevity and talent achieved. The best stage races of a generation in Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, and Bradley Wiggins all owe him a debt of gratitude for his services and commitment. For a kid who washed up in Europe with little inexperience of the racing scene he hasn’t done too badly.
“Maybe winning Paris-Nice in 2013. Maybe that’s the highlight,” he says.
“I went there as a neo-pro and just got my head kicked in but then to go back and win it with guys like Tim Kerrison and Nico Portal around me, right near to where I live, that was special. But there were so many highlights over the years, with the Tour podium and stuff like that. The lowlight was probably 2017 at the Tour. When you’re in the back of an ambulance and the paramedics are asking if you can wiggle your toes, that’s probably one of the most confronting and difficult moments of your life.”
He doesn’t really talk about it often, but Porte spent a portion of his career trying his best to reach for something that was always just out of reach when it came to grand tour racing.
He could have stayed at Team Sky, under the cover of Chris Froome and served as a super domestique for his entire career but he branched out, took a gamble and spent some of his best years at BMC Racing and then Trek-Segafredo. After so many hard knocks in the Tour de France, so many doubters questioning his durability, he finally delivered in 2020 with a podium spot behind Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič. It was a result that cemented his place in Australia’s cycling history as just the second male rider to make the podium in the biggest race.
“I’m not emotional, put it that way” he says with a smile as he ponders those up and down years.
“Retirement has been something that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while but in the moment next week there will of course be moments where it becomes a bit of an emotional thing for me. It’s been 16 years since I moved out from Tazmania and came to chase the dream. This has been a season of lasts I suppose, and now heading into my first race I’m just happy because it almost feels like a home race because that’s where my wife and some family are from.”
The Tour of Britain can wait a bit longer though. On Friday, Porte will head out for his final training ride as a pro athlete. He’ll do a loop of around 100km that he’s done countless times before, heading out through his home city of Monaco before climbing the Madone for one last time. With him will be his friends and teammates, Luke Rowe, Geraint Thomas, and Eddie Dunbar. They’ll ride, they’ll stop for lunch – probably tacos according to Porte – before heading home where Porte will wheel his bike into the garage for that final time in Ineos training kit.
“Originally when we talked at the start of the season about Britain being my last race I did have ambitions of going there or having a crack at it but I’ve been sick so many times this year so I’m just not in top shape. That said, I’m still in good enough shape to be able to help Magnus Sheffield, Tom Pidcock or Michal Kwiatkowski to do something there. I don’t have any ambitions for myself other than to enjoy it,” he says as he reflects on expectations heading into the Tour of Britain.
Savoring the last few days in the saddle will be an important phase for Porte. There will be the opportunity to reflect properly on his career and achievements once he’s back home in Australia on a permanent basis at the end of the year but there’s the obvious question that always comes with retirement. Could he have gone one more year?
He pauses before answering: “Mentally, probably not but physically, sure. Even at the Giro when the moves were being made I was still there but at this point in my life, my son is at school and family comes first. I want to spend more time with my wife and the kids and this was always my mental finish line. This isn’t the easiest game to be involved in and once I set that finish line there’s no way I could carry on any longer. This moment has snuck up so quickly though. The years have gone by so fast.”
They really have. That Giro success in 2010 has gone by in the blink of an eye, and the moment Richie Porte was introduced to me at the Tour the following year by French journalist Jean Francois Quenet feels like yesterday.
After the Tour of Britain it will be time to pack for the last time with Porte and his young family set to move to Australia on a permanent basis. Another rider will take his spot at Ineos for 2023, and while Porte’s pro wheels will stop and gather dust, time will carry on and the next race will come into view.
January will be here soon enough and with it comes the Tour Down Under. The king of Willunga Hill might even be there, but as a spectator.
“I think I will go to Tour Down Under. I would have loved to have done the race in my last year but it wasn’t to be. I do want to go back there and see guys like Geraint Thomas and Mads Pedersen. I don’t think I’ll hang out at many bike races but TDU has been a really enjoyable one for me,” he says.
“I have no plans and I’m not in a rush. It will be nice to spend time with the wife and kids and later down the line then I’ll look for something to do. I just don’t have any plans, which is nice because cycling has been a high-pressure setting for so many years.”
Soon the pressure will be off. Porte has earned that at the very least but what he deserves most of all is the enjoyment and freedom of riding his bike for just the love of it.