The 33-year-old Tasmanian was on the form of his life, yet after crashing out in a freak spill just 10km into stage 9, he could only wonder what might have happened had he made it to Paris.
“That’s when it all hit me,” Porte said Monday, describing the emotion of leaving the Tour. “All that preparation, all the training camps, all the work, all behind-scenes work from the staffers — all for nothing for another year. All of a sudden it’s gone. It’s a cruel, cruel sport.”
Speaking to journalists via a phone call Monday, Porte said he resumed training 10 days ago and confirmed he will make a run at the Vuelta a España and world championships.
“It was disappointing to crash out of another Tour and be at home watching on the sofa again,” Porte said. “Leaving the Tour was probably harder than last year … especially how the Tour unfolded this year. As soon as it went up to the mountains and Sky took control, we figured that’s how the race would have turned out. It would have been an ideal scenario for us.”
The BMC Racing captain is recovering well from a fractured right clavicle that saw him exit the Tour on stage 9, but it might be awhile before he can overcome the bitter disappointment and frustration of being forced out of the Tour for the second straight year. Months of preparation and hard work were squelched in a second.
“It was a major disappointment not to be there,” Porte said. “This year’s crash; I didn’t even see it coming. I didn’t even have a chance to touch the brakes.”
Porte rode into the 2018 Tour in perhaps the best form of his life. Hot off winning the Tour de Suisse, he seemed poised to take it to Sky and Chris Froome. Some early stage jitters inside the bunch on the highly anticipated cobblestone stage, however, saw Porte crash out even before reaching the pavé.
Porte sat on the curb last month in northern France in tears when he realized the enormity of what he lost when doctors confirmed the worst.
“It’s getting hard to take. Every year I am getting older,” Porte said Monday from Monaco. “I know I don’t have that many more opportunities to go and have a crack at the Tour. This year was harder to take than it was in the past. After coming off winning the Tour de Suisse, I was in a good place. I had a strong team around me, and then to have that happen …”
Porte replayed the crash over in his mind: a nervous start, a jumpy peloton, and miles before the course hit the pavé, there was one of those innocuous pileups that happen every day in a bike race. Sometimes you jump right back up, but sometimes you don’t. Porte landed funny in the crunch of bodies and bikes, and immediately knew something was wrong. That dull pain. A quick doctor’s revision. The order to get into the ambulance. The realization that his Tour was over.
“As soon as I hit the ground, I knew I had fractured my collarbone,” he said. “You get that dull pain and you know it’s not good.”
And once he was back home, he could only watch in wonder and dismay as Geraint Thomas, a former teammate and contemporary, rode away with the yellow jersey.
“In July last year, we went home on the same day and we were kind of swapping bad luck stories,” Porte said of Thomas. “I had another rotten run of bad luck, and ‘G’ wins the Tour.”
Porte still cannot believe his bad luck, yet he was quick to congratulate Thomas, a former teammate and friend who often train together in the hills around Monaco. Porte was once part of Sky’s formidable lineup and said it was no surprise to see Thomas rise to the occasion.
“Full credit to Geraint,” Porte said. “We are quite good friends and we trained together before the Tour. It was a different ‘G.’ He was super motivated going into it, and I’ve never seen him so switched on. He had a lot of confidence out of winning the Dauphiné, so it’s not a massive surprise he finally puts it all together and doesn’t have any bad luck.”
Porte is easing back into the life of the peloton. After crashing out, his wife and newly born son helped him ease the emotional burden of leaving the Tour. He appreciated the many messages of condolences and encouragement from friends, family and fellow competitors. He watched the Tour daily and said he enjoyed commentary from ex-pro David Millar.
Porte will start the Vuelta not quite knowing what to expect. He will not race before the August 25 start in Malaga, but will still have the Tour de France fitness in his legs even if he’s missing top-end racing speed. An intriguing worlds course is also helping him stay motivated for the remainder of 2018.
Porte said he will reveal his professional future before the start of the Vuelta, and if many media reports are to believed, it’s also likely his final grand tour with BMC Racing.
Porte is already impatiently awaiting the announcement of the 2019 Tour route this fall. That’s when the months of preparation, training, and planning begin.
“Cadel [Evans] won when he was 34, and I’ll be 34 next year,” Porte said. “I started as a pro at 25, so I’ve got a few years left in me.”
His goals are clear for 2019.
“The first thing is to get past stage 9 next year,” Porte said sardonically in reference to the stage that’s spelled his doom the past two Tours. And avoid bad luck.
“At the end of the day, this year’s left me more motivated for the Tour,” he said. “It’s inspiring to see Geraint win the Tour. I’ve seen so much of his bad luck first-hand. To see him win the Tour does give you a bit more motivation.”
Porte knows all he needs is a little bit of luck to turn his way and the story could have a very different ending.