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Australian Richie Porte (BMC Racing) was racing up the famed Mount Ventoux to the finish at Chalet Reynard on stage 12 of the 2016 Tour de France when disaster struck.
A motorbike was forced to stop due to a large mass of overzealous fans on the mountain — on Bastille Day, no less — and Porte, along with yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), saw the advantage they had built over other GC riders come crashing to the ground The race was thrown into total chaos as they piled into the moto, and onto each other.
“We had the gap there on Quintana and everything was going absolutely perfectly and then the next thing the motorbike just stopped right in the middle of the road in front of me,” Porte said after the stage while cooling down on a trainer. “I had nowhere to go and straight over the top of [the motorbike]. I just can’t stand that the motorbike and the crowd just ruin the race like that. It was just a mess.”
At the time the race jury was still discussing the situation and Porte didn’t hide his frustration. “I don’t know what they are going to do, but they need to do something about it because it’s not fair,” Porte said. “One minute we are 23 seconds in front and the next thing, you know for something so silly, everybody’s back on us.
“That can’t stand. That can’t happen like that. Surely the jury has to look at it and use some sort of discretion. I mean if you can’t control the crowds then what can you control?”
Porte, and Froome, caught a break as the race jury awarded them the same time as Mollema on the stage and took back 19 seconds on Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and a handful of other contenders in the general classification. He sits 11th overall, 2:22 behind Froome.
Over the past year, the involvement of motorbikes in professional cycling has been a sensitive and hotly discussed topic, but on this occasion it seemed the race organization, and the fans, were at fault for putting cycling into the spotlight on its biggest stage for the wrong reason.
“It’s not really the motorbikes, it’s the crowd,” Porte said “They’re in your face the whole time, pushing riders. It was just at the top there, that was just crazy.”
— SimonNRicketts (@SimonNRicketts) July 14, 2016
The fans not only sent the stage into total disarray, but their actions could have ramifications for Porte down the road.
The 31-year-old has had tough relationship with Grand Tours when entering them as his team’s designated leader. At the Giro d’Italia last year, he was climbing with the best until he was docked two minutes for taking a wheel from a rider who was not his teammate. It went downhill from there, as he eventually got sick and abandoned.
The year before at the Tour in 2014, Porte acquired Team Sky leadership after Froome crashed out, but again he faltered. The Tasmanian seems to either have bad luck or have a significantly bad day to hinder his general classification chances.
Porte left Sky in the offseason in search of aiming for the general classification at the Tour with the support of a team around him. Until this month, he had always begun the Tour as a domestique in support of someone else.
The Grande Bouclé did not start well for Porte, as an untimely puncture on Stage 2 forced him to cede 1:45 to the race’s GC contenders, including his teammate Tejay van Garderen, who is sharing leadership with him. He has rebounded though and shown that his climbing legs are some of the finest at the Tour this year.
Porte made multiple attacks in the hailstorm to the Araclis ski resort in Andorra and was again on the move on Mount Ventoux. The motorbike crash, however, has risked leaving him pondering what could have been — and feeling sore.
“Obviously we’ll see how I pull up tomorrow,” Porte said. “I’m a little bit bruised on the hip and everything, but you know we just have to see what the jury does there with the time. You know they use their discretion with other things, so hopefully I might get a bit of luck on this one, but I won’t be holding my breath.”
Porte did finally get a bit of luck at a Grand Tour and finished the stage with a mental advantage over most of his rivals by gaining 19 seconds, but it remains to be see how he will feel on Friday.
“It’s the decision they had to take. It’s already out of control. I agree that you come to the race, you have a good time but you don’t need to be running beside the riders, you don’t need to hitting riders, pushing riders,” Porte said. “Things have got to change and I can’t believe there weren’t barriers there. At the end of the day I’ve trained so hard for this and yeah, okay, now I get the same time as Mollema, but I also crashed and now I’m sore.
“Tomorrow’s a crucial stage as well and it remains to be seen how I’ll pull up. It’s bitterly disappointing but at the end of the day it’s the right decision by the UCI jury. We love the fans and 99 percent of them are brilliant but why do some of them need to take their selfies and run along beside us? There’s passion and there’s stupidity and it’s not such a fine line between them.”
Friday’s individual time trial favours Porte’s skills. The 37.5km (23.3mi) route does not necessarily suit the pure powerhouses of the bunch like Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) with 660m (2,165ft) of climbing feature in the parcours. The course could very well suit a rider like Porte who is light enough to go up hills quickly, but also possesses the power on the flats.
The BMC rider was Australian national champion in the time trial in 2015 and finished runner-up this year. The stage could also see Porte go head-to-head against his friend and former captain, Froome, for the stage win, but it remains to be seen how the motorbike incident will truly affect him.