When Richie Porte rolls out of the isolated French town of Noirmoutier-En-L'Ïle along with about 200 like-minded individuals on Saturday, he will finally be able to focus on his eighth Tour de France.
All the media commitments, stage recces, drug testing, dietary regimes and transfer talk can be put aside as the Tasmanian plots a 3229-kilometre course that he hopes will lead to a podium in Paris.
Aged 33 and at the peak of his pedalling powers, the former Launceston lifeguard knows it’s time to sink or swim.
Desperate to improve on his previous best finish of fifth in 2016, Porte will again lead BMC with what he believes is his strongest support team but only too aware of how misfortune, mishaps and malady can wipe out the best laid plans.
Twelve months after the sickening high-speed crash that ended his Tour and broke his collarbone and pelvis, Porte is back to his best.
Third place in the Tour de Romandie, second at the Tour Down Under and first at Tour de Suisse suggest the form is there for a podium finish.
As he left his Monaco home, his wife Gemma and their new-born son Luca, Porte said he is ready for everything the pre-Tour circus and 21 gruelling stages can throw at him.
“That first time you roll out and the crowd is huge and there is a massive buzz, but then you just get on with it,” he said.
“Once you get back to the team bus at the end of day one you know you’ve started and it’s one down, 20 to go.
“Take it day by day, stay out of trouble, stay healthy and not lose time.”
Porte already knows what subjects will dominate his countless pre-race interviews.
“There are journalists from all over the world here. I will get asked a lot about (former teammate and four-time winner) Chris Froome but then I reckon all the questions will be about my crash last year and if it plays on my mind.
“Well of course it does. You don’t come off a bike at 70 km/h and just dust yourself off and keep riding.
“Having a one-month-old baby does play on your mind but I realise you have to get to Paris to make the podium.
“The first nine stages this year are probably the most stressful from any of the Tours I’ve done.
“The Tour is renowned for that opening week of massive crashes. When I used to watch it back in Hadspen I used to love watching those crashes. Now I’m on the other side it’s a bit different.”
Despite last year’s crash and a similar bone-shattering end to his Olympic hopes in Rio de Janeiro the year before, Porte is philosophical about the dangers.
“I don’t see myself as a massive risk-taker but know the best of the best can still crash.
“There is no science to staying out of trouble, you just get to the front and hope for the best.
There is no science to staying out of trouble, you just get to the front and hope for the bestRichie Porte
“I have the best team to stay out of trouble but you can still be involved in crashes at the front. Every team wants their leader at the front. Those are the days when you earn your money. You cannot switch off for a second.
“Those first nine days are just about survival.”
The rest of Porte’s preparation will be meeting drug testing requirements, scouting the course for the third-stage time trial and trying not to give in to gastronomic temptation.
“We are still in training right up to the race and will ride the 36km course for the team time trial twice.
“That’s when you start feeling you are at the race because you see all the other teams out on the road doing the same thing.
“One of the hardest things about the days before the Tour are watching your diet. Our sport is all about weight and as a climber that’s hard.
“We have a brilliant Italian chef who will cook whatever you want so it’s all about self-control. “When you are sitting around the hotel it would be easy to snack so the hardest thing is watching what you eat.”
Porte, who could not comment on a potential end-of-season team move but has been strongly linked to American-registered Belgian-based Trek-Segafredo, said he couldn’t be happier with the team that BMC have built around him.
“It’s the strongest I’ve ever had. I’m used to the leadership responsibility now. I’ve been in this team long enough that they know I’m going to give them everything I’ve got. Being from Tasmania you’ve got to fight that little bit harder to get anywhere. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve had to explain to people that we are part of Australia.”
Our #TDF2018 roster is in! 🇫🇷— BMC Racing Team (@BMCProTeam) June 27, 2018
Meet the eight riders 👇 and read more 👉 🗒 https://t.co/bBPQTPkfln
🇺🇸 Tejay van Garderen#Ride_BMCpic.twitter.com/CMNonQS711
Embarking on his 12th Grand Tour with 29 professional wins including Paris-Nice (twice), Tour de Romandie, Volta a Catalunya and the Tour Down Under, Porte has become an old hand at dealing with the big race pressure.
“I feel this year that I’m going in a lot less stressed.
“Maybe that comes with fatherhood and at 33 it’s starting to put things into perspective more.
“Now that I’ve got a child, I don’t want to be taking any risks. I’m not getting any younger and need to start thinking about my future, and my son’s.”
And he has a down to earth way of looking at his starring role in the world’s most spectated annual sporting event.
“At the end of the day, it’s really just another bike race which is what I’ve been doing for 11 years since I was a lifeguard at the Windmill Hill pool.”
Survival and stamina will be the secrets of success in this year’s Tour de France.
After many hours scanning maps and scaling mountains, Richie Porte knows this year’s course as well as anybody.
And after nine days of “survival”, he’ll be ready to make his move.
“The (35.5km) team time trial on stage three is a big focus for us because we are super strong in that, but then we have the cobbled stage (stage nine from Arras Citadelle to Roubaix).
“I’m 58kg and train for mountains not for cobbles. They’re for the 80kg guys. We have guys like Greg van Avermaet, who has won Paris-Roubaix, Micky Schar and Stefan Kung, who is Switzerland’s new Fabian Cancellara, they are some of the best guys to rely on. If I can stay with those guys on the cobbles, I’m a chance.
“Then you morph into a climber as the race hits the Alps. We have the cobbles on a Sunday (July 15), rest day on Monday and then slap bang into the Alps on Tuesday climbing more than 1000 metres.
“We did recces there last week and I honestly don’t know if the Alps or Pyrenees are harder this year.”
To encourage aggressive attacks in the mountains, organisers have limited stage 17 from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan in the Pyrenees to just 65km – the shortest in 30 years of the Tour.
“That’s like a Moto GP grid start,” Porte said. “It’s unprecedented, we’ve never done anything like that before.
“It’s short, but everyone goes harder and those stages can blow the race apart. You have one bad day and it’s not going to be pretty.”
In terms of when he could strike, Porte was hedging his bets.
“Any uphill stage is the best chance I have. We’re doing a lot of climbing but there are not many mountain top finishes. There is a long time trial at the end (stage 20, 31km) with quite a lot of climbing. If I’m still close on general classification, I could make good time there.”
And in addition to a podium finish, the Grand Tour veteran would like to tick off another career box.
“I’d love to win a stage, that’s a big goal for me.
“A lot of years I’ve had a good early season and won big stage races but I would love to win a Tour stage.”