CHERBOURG, France (CT) – Richie Porte’s chances of winning the 2016 Tour de France have taken a significant hit after just two days of the 21-day race.
An inopportune puncture and slow wheel change from neutral support just 5km from the finish of today’s second stage saw Porte fall 1:45 behind his GC rivals and his BMC co-leader Tejay van Garderen. Porte didn’t mince his words when describing the incident.
“It was a disaster. What can you do?” Porte said after the stage. “You’re sitting second wheel, perfect position … I don’t know what the hell I hit but next thing the rear tyre went down and then I had to buckle the seatbelt out there going back through the peloton. It was quite dangerous.”
Porte came into the race having structured his season around a tilt at the Tour de France general classification. Indeed, his move from Sky to BMC at the end of last season was largely motivated by the opportunity to lead a team at the Tour de France. But things haven’t gone to plan so far.
“It’s kinda like last year in the Giro minus the two-minute penalty,” Porte said, referring to stage 10 of last year’s Giro d’Italia when he was docked two minutes for taking a wheel from compatriot but rival Simon Clarke. “But it probably would have been quicker to take the two-minute penalty than the wheel change I got anyhow.”
Speaking at the BMC Racing team bus after the stage, a despondent Porte admitted the puncture probably spells the end of his chances of winning the Tour de France in 2016. “I suppose it does”, Porte admitted.
Tejay van Garderen begged to differ.
“I think that’s a knee-jerk reaction on his part,” the American said. “I still see us as equals, as co-leaders. He’ll certainly still be getting support on the road and I think he just needs to stay positive and not lose focus.”
Team manager Jim Ochowicz offered a similar perspective, saying it wasn’t the case the team would now through everything behind van Garderen for the GC.
“We’re not in that space where we’re making decisions like that,” Ochowicz told CyclingTips. “We’re going day to day like we always have in the past and tomorrow’s another day. Yeah, we took some lumps today, but we’ll come back from this.”
While disappointed, Ochowicz was relieved Porte’s time loss was due to a mechanical rather than a crash.
“If you’re going to lose time I’d rather do it that way than have him injured. So he’s healthy, he’s good,” Ochowicz said. “This is going to be a deficit that he’s got to make up at some point in the next couple of weeks. That’s just bike racing.”
Porte has had a somewhat tumultuous relationship with the Grand Tours throughout his career. After finishing seventh and winning the best young rider jersey in his debut Grand Tour, the 2010 Giro d’Italia, Porte seemed destined to one day win a three-week race. He’s since played a vital role in helping friend and former teammate Chris Froome to two Tour de France victories, but has had ill fortune when racing for himself.
At the 2014 Tour, Porte assumed the role of Sky leader when Froome crashed out of the race. The Tasmanian subsequently fell ill and out of overall contention. And in last year’s Giro d’Italia, Porte’s puncture and time penalty scuppered any chances of winning the race overall; a race he’d built his season around.
But Porte can perhaps take some small comfort from the fact he wasn’t the only GC contender to lose time on today’s stage. Two-time winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), who crashed heavily on yesterday’s opening stage, again hit the bitumen on stage 2 and was eventually distanced on the final climb as his teammate Peter Sagan dashed to victory.
Contador now sits 48 seconds behind fellow GC favourites Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) while Porte is a further 57 seconds behind. But with so much of the race (including all of the mountain stages) still remaining, the Tour’s GC battle is just beginning.
“We’re at stage 2; we’ve got 19 more of these stages to go,” van Garderen said. “Any one of these stages the whole Tour could flip over on its head. Quintana lost two minutes on stage 2 last year and ended up nearly winning the Tour. Richie needs to keep that in mind. This thing’s nowhere near over.”