Lifestyle changes have Richie Porte feeling his best days are arriving as he prepares his assault on the Giro d’Italia starting on Saturday.
The 30-year-old Tasmanian has been in career-best form and is rated a big chance to become Australia’s first grand tour winner since Cadel Evans’ breakthrough at the 2011 Tour de France.
With stage race wins at Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya and Giro del Trentino already this season, Porte will lead a powerful nine-man Team Sky outfit announced on Tuesday with strong climbing support for the crucial mountains stages in the three-week race.
His bid to become the first Australian to win the Giro comes a year after illness forced him to miss the race and ultimately cut his season short.
In a revealing interview with cyclingnews.com, Porte indicates he’s gone to another level this year because of lessons learned from his miserable 2014.
Already an elite general classification rider, he has lost about five kilograms after changing his diet and cutting his alcohol intake.
Away from cycling, getting engaged brought more perspective.
“Last season was tough in lots of ways but it was a blessing in disguise,” Porte told Cyclingnews.
“One of our team doctors said to me at the time ‘There’s obviously something not right with your health but you’re not living the lifestyle of a professional bike rider.’
“For me that was a big kick up the backside and the one I needed the most.”
“…I think I’ve really turned the corner in my career and this Giro d’Italia is a big opportunity and I’m really looking forward to it.”
He added: “You have a limited time to be a professional but I think I’m coming into my heyday now and I’m certainly going to make the most of it.”
While many riders prefer to focus their season around the Tour de France in July, the Giro has great resonance for Porte.
The former triathlete raced in Tuscany as an amateur for three seasons before starting out on his pro career.
And he really made his name in the 2010 Giro, wearing the leader’s jersey, the Maglia Rosa, for three days and winning the young rider classification after finishing seventh overall in his grand tour debut.
Porte’s team includes key climbing allies in Spaniard Mikel Nieve, Kanstantsin Siutsou of Belarus, exciting 21-year-old Colombian Sebastian Henao and Czech newcomer Leopold Koenig.
Also in the line up are seasoned road captain Bernhard Eisel, Belarussia’s Vasil Kiryienka, who won mountain stage victories 2008 and 2011, and Italians Salvatore Puccio and Elia Viviani.
Last year’s winner Nairo Quintana and Tour de France champion Vicenzo Nibali are notable absentees from the race.
However, Porte can expect major challenges from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Astana’s Fabio Aru, Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-Quickstep) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale).