Porte itching for French road return

Murray Wenzel
Australian Richie Porte is ready for what could be his last serious tilt at the Tour de France

Richie Porte has been clocking 1000km most weeks from the discomfort of his balcony's stationary bike and will relish the chance to ascend France's mountains again when lockdowns ease on Monday.

But of course the forecast is for major thunderstorms.

It's been one of those years for Porte, the Australian Trek-Segafredo climber who is off contract beyond this season and considering a change of pace beyond that.

The 35-year-old started the year in a canter, winning his second Tour Down Under in January and adding another podium finish in his European return at the Tour des Alpes Maritimes et du Var.

The coronavirus pandemic halted racing after March's Paris-Nice, confining Porte to his Monaco apartment with his wife and son ever since.

They are expecting a second boy in September, the due date falling in the middle of the postponed Tour de France.

Admitting it may be his last as an out-and-out contender, Porte and his wife have committed to him racing.

"It's terrible; our first son was born days before I had to fly and race the Tour de Suisse and I thought we'd nailed the timing this time, but now we have this," he told AAP.

"You don't want to miss the birth, but it's just something you have to do and it's probably going to be my last Tour (as a team leader).

"I'm up for contract this year too, it's a tough year to be up and the pressure gets to you more when you have a wife and a couple of kids.

"I have had a couple of nasty accidents now and it's always at the back of your mind, you have these responsibilities.

"But it's (the Tour de France) the biggest goal and the biggest sacrifice I'd ever have to make is not being there (for the birth), so of course I'm motivated to do well."

Porte still loves the caper but sees a shift of focus to week-long events and even domestique duties once this year's revised three-month season is complete.

"I know I can still win races like the Tour Down Under and Paris-Nice but that I am also passing that window as an athlete," he said.

"Next year I'll be 36, so I think my best days in a long race are behind me and naturally you do look at taking on a different role."

Where and under what circumstances he signs his next contract will have direct consequences on a delayed 2021 Olympic push, too.

Porte had tweaked his program this year to ensure he convinced Australian selectors of his worth after crashing out of Rio's 2016 road race.

"I wouldn't say my last Olympic experience was my best memory; ending up in a hospital and that started a bit of a streak for me ending up in hospitals after big races," he said in a nod to his painful and eerily similar Tour de France exits that followed in 2017 and 2018.

"It was a big motivation this year, but it's back of mind again just because it's so far away.

"I can't get ahead of myself, but it will be a big motivation and when you do represent your country you don't just want to turn up for the tracksuit."

The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) this week released a new-look calendar that squeezes 25 events between August and October.

They are all pending government approval though, the many question marks leaving Porte optimistic but realistic given his proximity to the devastation.

"We're lucky we've been mostly shielded in Monaco, but I can see Italy from the balcony 16km away and we're surrounded by France," he said.

"It's strange times, and stressful especially with a pregnant wife."

He'll be keeping an eye on the weather radar on Sunday night, eager to hit the road given his lockdown highlight has been a burst water main that flooded the street below him.

"I don't think I've ever done a 1000km week sat in one place before, and we've watched all the junk TV," he said.

"I'm not going to lie, having the technology (like virtual riding app Zwift) is great but it's still pretty hard on the head.

"Once we are out on the road again, the planning with the team will start and that's what you get paid for isn't it? To be ready.

"So I guess that's all you can do."