Richie Porte out to banish bad Olympic memories in Tokyo road cycling team

After heading to the 2016 Olympics as a genuine medal contender, Richie Porte ended his stay in Brazil nursing a broken scapula in a Rio hospital after a nasty crash that dashed his hopes. Five years on, the Australian is hoping to put the pain and disappointment of his maiden Games appearance behind him after being selected in Australia’s road race team for a second time.

Porte, who came third in last year’s Tour de France, was on Thursday named alongside Tour de France team time trial stage winner Cameron Meyer and Jack Haig in a strong Australian men’s road cycling team. Two-time individual time trial world champion Rohan Dennis completes the quartet, who will head to Japan with aspirations of securing just a third Australian medal in the discipline.

Clyde Sefton’s silver in the 1972 Games in Munich remains the closest an Australian man has come to being crowned an Olympic road race champion, while Michael Rogers claimed bronze in the time trial at Athens in 2004. But Porte said the current team has the credentials to emulate that pair.

“The last Olympics I didn’t have the greatest memories, so to be able to go back to an Olympic Games is going to be fantastic,” Porte said. “We can aim to be up there for the podium … It would be a dream for anyone to medal at the Olympics. Obviously that’s the big goal but I think it’s just going to be an absolute miracle that these Games are going to go ahead.”

The men’s road race will cover 244km, starting in Tokyo’s Musashinonomori Park and incorporating impressive views of Mt Fuji. It includes 4,865m of elevation, suiting the likes of veteran climbers like Porte and Britain’s Chris Froome. The time trial, starting at the Fuji International Speedway, is raced over two laps of a 22.1km circuit.

“I think it’s going to be a fantastic Games,” Porte said. “I look forward to just getting there and racing. I think it’s a fantastic course, it’s going to be hard, but we can aim to be up there for the podium. The Olympics is a massive career highlight for me. You don’t take for granted to be selected for the team in a country like Australia as it has so many worthy guys to choose from, so to just make the team, it’s a big honour.”

Dual world championship medallist Amanda Spratt headlines the women’s team in her third Olympic Games, which have been delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and are now scheduled to begin on 23 July. Grace Brown, Sarah Gigante and Tiffany Cromwell will all make their debuts.

“We’ve got a really great team for Tokyo,” Spratt said. “We’ve got a great road captain in Tiffany Cromwell, we’ve seen what Grace has been doing over in Europe and with the youth of Sarah Gigante we’ve got a strong and well-rounded team that will really suit this course.”

The women’s races differ from the men’s; they face a shorter road race course of 147km with 2,692m of elevation, while the time trial is run over just one lap of the 22.1km course. Gigante, who has claimed three national road titles in three years – 2019 road, 2020 and 2021 time trial – said it was “surreal” to be named in her first Olympic squad.

“Going to the Olympics is one of those things I always dreamed of … but it always seemed like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – something I hoped really existed but certainly something very far away and a bit of a fantasy.”