FORLI, Italy (VN) — There’s no such thing as a boring stage at the Giro d’Italia. On paper, Tuesday’s 200km 10th stage into Forli was the flattest of the Giro, and with a strong tailwind, it should have been a routine day in the saddle for the GC contenders, but disaster struck for Sky’s Richie Porte with less than 10km to go.
The Tasmanian’s front tire punctured at the worst possible time. With about 7km to go, he was well beyond the reach of the “safe zone” of three kilometers to go, so the time gaps counted. And with the peloton still charging at full speed to reel in the break, it was all but impossible to regain contact. Despite help from a few Sky teammates, and even compatriots Michael Matthews and Simon Clarke from rival Orica-GreenEdge team, Porte lost 47 seconds.
The disappointment was palpable on Porte’s face as he stepped onto the Sky bus following a brief warm-down after crossing the line in 150th place, 1:05 back. Porte dropped from third at 22 seconds back, to fourth, now 1:09 behind race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). (The UCI jury met later on Tuesday and assessed a two-minute penalty for Porte, as he received aid from Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge, resulting in a gap of 3:09 on GC. -Ed.)
“It’s 47 seconds; we’ve been fighting for one or two seconds, then you have a little bit of bad luck,” Porte said. “It was nice to see my team stop and help me, and Simon Clarke and Michael Matthews, good mates, helping me as well. It’s not over. Taking the positives out of it, the legs felt great. Live to fight another day.”
The unfortunate spate of bad luck comes just days ahead of the most important moment for Porte, who so far has raced an intelligent, well-measured Giro through the opening nine stages. Saturday’s 59.4km individual time trial in stage 14 represents a major chance for Sky to take control of this Giro. Losing 47 seconds in a transition stage is hardly the way Porte wanted to approach the critical race against the clock.
“I think it would very unlucky if a mechanical like that would decide the Giro. Hopefully not,” Sky sport director Dario Cioni told VeloNews. “No one wanted to lose time, especially for a mechanical accident. That’s also part of the game.”
Sky tried to limit the losses, but it was an impossible fight, especially with the breakaway still up the road, and the peloton chasing at full chase speed. Had the breakaway been reeled in, the bunch would have slowed, allowing Porte a better chance to limit his losses.
It also took Sky a few minutes to organize the chase, with Bernhard Eisel, Salvatore Puccio, Sebastian Henao, and Kanstantsin Siutsou helping to pace Porte to the line. Other Sky riders were caught out of position in the chaos and high-speed of the final run into the finish. There were photographs that revealed it was Orica rider Clarke who swapped out Porte’s front wheel. Sometimes camaraderie works across team lines.
Porte was already trying to put that bad luck behind him, and was hinting things could have been even worse.
“The first thing I was trying to do was hold the bike up. There is not much you can do but fight to hold the bike up; [I] almost went down in a roundabout,” Porte said. “That’s it. A bit of bad luck, and as we’ve seen, I think everyone’s going to have a bit of bad luck over 21 days. We’ll see what happens now.”
Arch-rival Contador wouldn’t say it publicly, but it’s hard not to imagine that he was privately relieved to see Porte lose a bit of time. Porte remains Contador’s top threat for the long time trial, and taking back the unexpected time against Porte will give the Spaniard even more of a cushion going into Saturday’s critical test.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but something bad can happen at any moment of the race. Just like me in stage 6, and Porte today. He punctured at the worse moment, when we were all going at full speed,” Contador said. “I don’t believe the race will be decided by 47 seconds. I am feeling better day by day. My shoulder still hurts, but I hope to be going much better Saturday.”
Sky was already putting up its defiant face just moments after the mishap. Cioni said the team will go down swinging.
“You cannot just give up for one mechanical. It’s extra motivation to do better next time,” Cioni said. “At this point, he can only do his best. His legs are good, he’s confident, he’s got the time trial ahead of him, and the mountain stages.”
This Giro d’Italia was already a turning point in Porte’s career. After a flawless first half of the Giro, luck turned against him in stage 10. With the hardest part of the Giro still looming, Porte will now be even more determined than ever to prove he deserves to ride to Milano in pink. One puncture at the wrong moment just made that challenge that much harder.