White Jersey is the next Porte of call

I read an article recently on the excellent BackPageFootball.com on how pressure from fans and media can become overwhelming  for a young athlete and can eventually ruin their career. Sebastian Deisler was a German footballer who was pegged as ‘the next Franz Beckenbauer’. He had to live and play with the tag of being the saviour of German football from a very young age. Despite this pressure and a string of injuries he made it from Borussia Monchengladbach via Hertha Berlin all the way to Bayern Munich. However, at Bayern the injuries persisted and he never quite lived up to his promise. He was earmarked to lead Germany to World Cup glory on home soil in 2006 but he missed the tournament, again through injury. He struggled to cope with the immense pressure exerted on him and was eventually diagnosed with depression. He retired from football completely in 2007 saying:

In the end I was empty. I was old and I was tired. I went as far as my legs could carry me, and I could not go any further.

He was 27 years old.

As cycling fans, it is natural to be on the look out for ‘the next Lance Armstrong’ or ‘the next Mario Cipollini’, but as was the case with Deisler, these labels and pressures can be taken too far. Tom Danielson was labelled ‘the next Lance Armstrong’ from a young age and was even drafted into Armstrong’s team just as the Texan was winding down his own career in 2005. He won the Tour de Georgia that year which rubber stamped his label as ‘the next Lance Armstrong’ but he has never lived up to that promise and has consistently been dogged by illness and injury. He has never come close to living up to this label but he’s had a good career. Surely he should be lauded for what he has achieved rather than criticised for what he hasn’t? Along with the Tour de Georgia victory, he has won the Tour de Langkawi, the Osterreich Rundfahrt, the Tour of Austria, a stage of the Vuelta a Espana as well as being a multiple top 10 finisher in the Spanish Grand Tour.

Danielson has had a solid career despite missing large chunks of it through various maladies. But despite this, his career is seen by some as a failure. It’s a failure when compared with the expectation he was burdened with, but not when examined on its own merits. Pro Cycling magazine are guilty of maintaining a long running column called ‘Are you the next Lance Armstrong?’. Riders featured over the years have been as diverse as Lars Boom, Jurgen van den Broeck, Benoit Vaugrenard, Lars Bak, Rigoberto Uran, Martijn Maaskant, Kevin Seeldrayers and Tom Peterson. The column is written fairly tongue in cheek but is surely not a help to a young rider who aims to embark on a career as a classics rider! Perhaps I’m overestimating the influence that a cycling publication can have on the mindset of an emerging rider?

What is not an overestimation however is the pressure that the French media heap on any French rider who emits a mere whiff of being capable of challenging for the Tour de France. It’s now 25 years since the French had a home winner of the Tour. Thus, when a Frenchman manages a decent performance in the Tour de France he is likely to be labelled the saviour of French cycling. Christophe Rinero and Benoit Salmon are prime examples of this. (To further illustrate, try doing an advanced search on Google of the cyclingnews.com site, type the search term “French hope”. When compared to any other nationality in the search term there are considerably more results for the French). I mention all of this because I fear for the future of Richie Porte.

The young Tasmanian has had a fantastic Giro where he’s the leader in the young rider’s classification and currently sits in third pace in the General Classement. He has almost seven minutes in hand over Robert Kiserlovski, the young rider closest to his White jersey and he has an almost eight minute buffer between his current third spot and falling out of the top 10. Spurred on by the thought of achieving both of these goals, Porte has been climbing admirably. He has finished in the top 20 of both the stage up Monte Zoncolan and the Plan de Corones mountain time trial, results not to be sniffed at. While there are a couple of very difficult stages remaining, if he keeps this up he will mostly likely end the Giro in the top 10 and the winner of the White Jersey as best young rider.

However, let us not forget that these achievements have been made possible by fortuitous circumstances, two in particular. Porte, along with dozens of other riders was afforded almost 13 minutes on the rainy Stage 11 to l’Aquila. This sort of breakaway occurs very rarely in a Grand Tour, or indeed in any stage race. The two most prominent examples of long dangerous successful breakaways that come to mind are Oscar Pereiro’s breakaway in 2006 and Claudio Chiapucci’s in 1990. Richie Porte and David Arroyo have benefitted hugely from the inability of Liquigas, Astana and BMC to co-ordinate a chase. If these teams had co-operated, Richie Porte would now simply be a good young rider who built on his Tour of Romandie time trial by taking 6th place in the first time trial of the Giro.

The second circumstance which has led to Porte’s current circumstances is the composition of his Saxo Bank team for this Giro. The team’s biggest hitters, Fabian Cancellara, Matti Breschel, Jens Voigt and the Schlecks are all not present. The team had no G.C. aspirations for the Giro. Before the race started the team had two goals, to set up Baden Cooke for the bunch sprints and to get a stage win through Chris Anker Sorensen. These two goals were concluded early on in the Giro for very different reasons. Chris Anker Sorensen won Stage 8, thereby fulfilling half of Saxo Bank’s goals for the race. The following day Baden Cooke abandoned the race. By the time the massive breakaway stole away on Stage 11, Saxo Bank had no more goals to fulfill for the Giro. This resulted in the remaining seven riders on the team being able to lend their full support to the escapades of Richie Porte for the remainder of the race.

This is Porte’s first appearance in a Grand Tour. In the past 10 years there have only been seven riders who have managed to finish in the top 10 in their first appearance in a Grand Tour, meaning it is quite an accomplishment. Most notably, these include Andy Schleck who finished 2nd in the 2007 Giro and Robert Gesink who finished 7th in his maiden Grand Tour at the Vuelta in 2008. Unusually, also on this list is Ezequiel Mosquera who didn’t ride in a Grand Tour until he was 31 when he finished 5th in the Vuelta. The remaining riders are Jose Angel Gomez Marchante (8th, Vuelta ’04), Jose Rujano (3rd, Giro ’05), David Blanco (10th, Vuelta ’04) and Jose Azevedo (5th, Giro ’01).

Richie Porte is 25 years old. This will be the last year that he is eligible for young rider competitions. Therefore he will not be able to contribute to his reputation by acquiring anymore White Jerseys. However, there will be pressure on him to build on his Giro d’Italia success. I just hope for his sake that he will not be subjected to over zealous pressure but will be taken for what he is, a young all-rounder who can excel in the time trial, rather than be taken for a Grand Tour hope who could eventually eclipse Cadel Evans by becoming the first Australian to win one of cycling’s three week races.

Related Articles


  1. Ronan - May 27, 2010 @ 7:57 pm

    Pro Cycling have also labelled Tony Martin the next Jan Ullrich on more than a few occasions whcih is not an easy title for a young German to hold for many reasons. When speaking of expectation though, spare a thought for the likes of Axel Merckx and Gary Nicklaus and, indeed, Nic Roche. Axel Merckx once said, “I’ll never achieve many things my father has. But he didn’t do everything in cycling. He never won at Alpe d’huez and it’s my goal to win there one day”. That says a lot about the type of pressure that is inherent in being the son of a figure like Merckx.
    The quote you give from Sebastian Diesler reminds me of the way the golfer Sergio Garcia has gone since his early and promising days. He seems spent now.

  2. irishpeloton - May 27, 2010 @ 11:01 pm

    Yes. Not an easy job following in a successful father’s footsteps. Although it must also be said that nobody forced them to try! Well, maybe some fathers do, but certainly in Nicolas Roche’s case I’ve heard Stephen in an interview say that he went as far as actually discouraging Nicolas to take up cycling but he ended up gravitating toward it anyway.

    I don’t think any time “the next xxxxx” is associated with any person is it helpful for that person. It can only be a burden.

  3. Gandalf - May 28, 2010 @ 9:12 am

    The thing about the “french hope” that I always wonder about is wheter or not it actually is true in France or if it is just an idea that established itself in non-french media? I mean sure there are pressure on young french talent, but does it get exaggerated in france or is that an assumption by non-french commentators? Guess I’ll have to learn French to figure it out..

    Well written as always.

  4. Ronan - May 28, 2010 @ 1:57 pm

    true, but what if you don’t go into cycling. you’re still the son of Eddy Merckx or Stephen Roche let’s say. “Hey, aren’t you the son of the greatest cyclist ever? What happened to you?” It wouldn’t be easy being Nic Rcohe, chartered accountant either. He’s done well for himself. On the other hand, with his name he’ll never have trouble getting a column or tv spot when he retires.

  5. irishpeloton - May 29, 2010 @ 1:09 am

    Gandalf – Interesting point. I’m not a French speaker, so I’m not sure what reactions come from the French press with regards to their home riders. Regardless of who they do or don’t build up as the next big thing, they must surely becoming hugely frustrated at the lack of French talent and success.

    Interestingly, an Australian was chatting to me there, and said that in Australia they’re far more into their sprinters than their G.C. men. Which means we needn’t be worried about anyone being labelled the ‘next Cadel Evans’ but who ever gets labelled the ‘next Robbie McEwen’ will be under far more pressure.

  6. Anonymous - June 16, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

    and you wanted to be a journalist? There is a huge difference between selling magazines and a blog – people want to se some hope, Danielson showed it at first, he just didn’t have the ret of the package – Scanlon?

  7. Anonymous - June 16, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

    BTW – the original procycling story on him winning Langkawi feature helped get him started – and it came in good faith from the writer -negative does little to help a sport already plagued

  8. irishpeloton - June 16, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

    Anonymous poster, I’m not sure you caught the crux of what I was trying to say in the post. I think Tom Danielson has had an excellent career, better than most. But when Danielson is talked about, he seems to be discussed in terms of what he hasn’t achieved rather than what he has achieved. I’m suggesting that if he hadn’t been burdened with the label of ‘the next Armstrong’, that his achievements would be more respected.

    For the same reasons, I hope Porte doesn’t get labeled and is judged on the merits of his own achievements and not needlessly compared with another rider for his whole career.

    I write about the results and the performances that I see. I don’t think I am particularly negative. I form opinions based on facts and I write about these opinions. This is not a negative post. Are you suggesting that people who write for cycling magazines should only write positive things and never utter a pessimistic word about anything? Now where’s the journalistic merit in that?

  9. Anonymous - June 17, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

    well, i wrote the first story on TD, and i am still editing and writing for magazines the world over – after almost 20 years- I get your point, and it’s opitnon – in a real world people buy into happy and hope with nice sunny days – not rainy days and mondays – trust me, as a freelancer I know this. Winners, not losers sell magazines, bikes, kit, TV slots- but FYI – I did not label him the next lance = that was some staff understudy who hi-jacked him after I’d take 6 months trying to persuade them to trust on doing a story with some kid they’d never heard of – they did, and I put him on he cover, he got a call from italy – and i never id get the drink 🙂 anyway, nice blog, lot of work too – maybe you should check your like selections, you might even fins some Irish material you like there – but like I say, realitiy is happy…. it’s business – be it racing bikes, selling the, or reading about them –

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *