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With two teams dominating the peloton, riders motivated to the max after months away from racing, and a course bookended by attritional opening and closing weeks, Porte and Mollema are just hoping to stay in contention through the tricky first weeks in the hopes of snatching time in the relentless final stages through the Alps.
Porte, who will be making his tenth Tour start Saturday, put up a brave fight at the Critérium du Dauphiné earlier this month as Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos Grenadiers threw haymakers at each other at the front of the climbing action.
“It’s not up to us to make the race,” Porte said at a team press conference Friday. “If anything, at the Dauphiné, it showed that if you can follow Jumbo-Visma or Ineos when they set the pace on the climbs and stay out of trouble in these first few stages then you can get to that third week where it’s really going to be like a death-march to Paris.”
“That last week, the stages are so brutally hard, the race isn’t over until Paris,” Porte said.
The Australian was always in contention but never a threat in a high-octane Dauphiné he likened to “five one-day races back to back.” With this year’s Tour pointing uphill from as early as stages 2 and 4, the 35-year-old is mindful that riders need to be on red-alert from day one in order to keep in GC contention.
“There’s never an opportunity to ease off in the Tour,” he said. “Especially in the first week, where it’s a disaster if you lose seconds – and it’s going to be minutes in the last week.”
Porte knows all-too-well how it feels to be off the back of the Tour de France before the action has even hit the final decisive week of racing, last year losing over one minute in the opening stage and hemorrhaging further minutes in a chaotic crosswind stage into Albi on stage 10.
Like Porte, co-leader Bauke Mollema starts his tenth Tour on Saturday. The experienced pair are particularly wary of the race’s final salvo of stages, which packs three high mountain stages, a grippy rolling stage, and a mountain time trial into five days.
“The differences are going to be pretty big this year in the end, especially with this course … the last week will be brutal,” Mollema said. “Last year the GC result had four guys within two minutes in Paris. I don’t think that will be the case this year. The gaps will be much bigger than that.”
With the race set to reach such a crushing climax, Porte and Mollema are just hoping to hang on as long as possible to pounce on cracks from under-pressure favorites. They’ve just got the small matter of two-weeks of having the screw turned by Ineos and Jumbo-Visma to get through first.