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Two days into the 2019 Tour de France, and Richie Porte already has ground to make up. The 34-year-old Australian and his Trek-Segafredo squad finished a disappointing 18th – 1:18 behind winners Jumbo-Visma – in the stage 2 team time trial. More pressingly, they ceded just under a minute to Ineos and the dual threat of Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal.
If Porte wants to finally pull on the yellow jersey or even finish on the Tour podium, goals that have eluded him year after year, he will have work to do just to claw back that time. He acknowledged his disappointment after the TTT, but tried to take an optimistic tack.
“It’s not ideal,” Porte said. “Obviously we lost Koen [de Kort] quite early, maybe after his crash yesterday, but I think we did a really nice ride and there’s still a long way to go.”
This year marks Porte’s ninth appearance in the sport’s biggest race. In his last few starts, he entered the race among the very top favorites to take the win, only to have crashes, illness, and mechanicals unravel his hopes. His 2017 and 2018 Tour campaigns both ended in heartbreaking crashes, both on the ninth stage of the race.
The fanfare around Porte has been quieter this season, his first with Trek-Segafredo, and his performances in most of his one-week racing appearances before the Tour have been quieter as well. At the same time, Porte said in the run-up to this Tour that he was feeling less pressure than in years past. He’s seemed relatively mellow in media appearances at the race, too.
However, time lost in the stage 2 TTT might heap a bit more pressure on Porte now that there’s a deficit to overcome before he even starts thinking about putting time into his rivals, although he knows the high mountains to come will be the real decider of this race.
“We’ve done the reconnaissance and the Pyrenees are always hard, but the Alps this year – the last three stages are brutal,” he said.
“The last week is definitely where it’s going to be won. But it’s never nice to lose time like that.”
Last year, Porte was among those GC stars winning big in the Tour’s TTT — his BMC team won the stage. This year, the big winners on the day include Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Bernal and Thomas, Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First), and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
At least Porte has company, with several other contenders finding themselves further down the GC standings than they might have hoped. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa, and Alejandro Valverde were among the other big names losing time on stage 2.
Movistar, a team that has occasionally delivered strong team performances against the clock in the past, came up short in Brussels, finishing 1:05 down on Jumbo-Visma.
Quintana seemed unsurprised by the turn of events.
“With our capacities, we did a good time. Losing time was expected,” he said, according to Cyclingnews. “It’s not the best thing to lose time, but we knew it from the start.”
Landa kept it honest: “I was a burden,” the Spaniard said.
On the bright side, Movistar’s GC hopes were always going to rely on the climbing legs of their climbing specialists. Those mountains can’t come quickly enough.
Bardet can take comfort there, too. Team manager Vincent Lavenu considered the team’s deficit (1:19 down on the stage; 59 seconds down on Ineos) to be within a manageable margin.
“We hoped for a gap of between a minute and 1:30, and we were a little under a minute behind our principal rivals, notably Ineos,” he said, according to Cyclingnews. “I’m quite satisfied that we limited the damage.”
For Bardet, and Movistar, and Porte, damage limitation was the refrain of the day. They’re right in that there’s a long way to go until Paris, and that fortunes can be reversed in the mountain stages.
The more pressing question for Porte, and those who shed a minute to their more fancied rivals, is whether they had a minute to spare in the first place.