CHAMONIX, France (VN) — The what-ifs that haunt Richie Porte now just won’t matter if he gets to hold his arms in the air on the Champs-Élysées.
Subtract the time Porte lost to his unlucky flat in the Tour de France’s first week, and he would be sitting in second, a bit over three minutes off Chris Froome and just ahead of Bauke Mollema. He wants to get on those steps, badly. He’s just running out of time to do so.
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“It’s no secret I want that podium, I’m prepared to fight,” he said after Thursday’s time trial, which saw him claw back a few more seconds on four of the five riders ahead of him. He’s now 1:08 behind Mollema, and only 44 seconds off the podium.
But this is the Tour. Everyone but Chris Froome already has their own pile of what-ifs, questions they’ll ask and try to answer from now until next July. Porte’s own teammate Tejay van Garderen certainly has a few of his own. But though Porte’s incident was particularly unlucky, he isn’t dwelling on that lost time, even as he sits within sniffing distance of his podium target. He has two days to achieve his goal, with good legs and a strong team. The only question now is how he gets there.
“Just to keep on having good days, I guess,” he said. “The next two days, on paper, are so hard. I’m in good form. I’m healthy, confident. I’ve got a good team behind me. I had a good TT; I showed that I’m climbing well, just take it day by day.”
“It was a good day, but we have two more days of climbing. Just have to keep chipping away and grab more time.”
There’s no question that Porte’s form is on the rise. After a quiet first two weeks (barring the flat incident) he turned on the gas on Wednesday and was the only rider able to draw Froome away from his teammates.
Porte’s competitors took notice. Other than Froome, Porte seems to be the strongest in the race.
“Porte did a strong TT today, and was the only one to really take the race yesterday and make a really strong pace on the front,” Froome said. “In my opinion, Richie looks like the one with the most to gain these next couple stages.”
Adam Yates, currently in third overall, sees the Australian as the most likely to bump him off.
“For me, Porte is going to be the main guy,” he said. “Every day he’s getting stronger, and maybe if he didn’t have a puncture at the beginning he’d be on the podium already.”
As the race heads into its final two stages — Friday’s uphill finish to Le Bettex and Saturday’s climbing day that ends with a sharp descent to Megève — Porte has gained a key domestique. Van Garderen’s time loss on Wednesday puts him out of the GC fight and into a helper position. Damiano Caruso has done an admirable job for both riders thus far this Tour, but Friday will mark the first time this month that Porte has a helper of van Garderen’s caliber.
Porte will need every advantage to make up the time lost, which remains significant. But two of the hardest stages of the entire Tour remain.
“Five guys are still looking for one or two spots,” Yates reminded reporters on Thursday. “It will be a good battle.”
Indeed it will.