LA PIERRE-SAINT-MARTIN, France (VN) — Richie Porte is back. After crashing and abandoning hope of a Giro d’Italia win, Sky’s Australian proved his worth once more in the Tour de France.
Porte helped Chris Froome to the 2013 Tour title and Bradley Wiggins to the 2012 title, often the second-to-last man in Sky’s mountain train. He did so again Monday when the 2015 Tour raced its way up La Pierre-Saint-Martin to the border between France and Spain.
As rival Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) wavered, 6.8 kilometers from the summit, Porte pushed the pace at the front of an elite group. Contador could no longer hang on. American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) dropped off next.
“The pace was pretty savage,” said Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge), who was also gapped.
Froome went on his own and distanced Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Not content to sit back and cruise in to the finish, Porte dropped those around him, joined Quintana and, in the final meters, left him for second place.
Porte’s season now had turned around after the Giro “disappointment” in May.
“People are so quick to forget the season that I’ve already had,” Porte said from the steps of the Sky bus. “It’s been fantastic so far. The Giro was a massive disappointment, but I think for me to have gone home a bit early — I think you saw today — most of the guys who finished that Giro are really tired. It was such a hard race.”
Contador, who won the Giro d’Italia, lost 2:51 to winner Froome on Tuesday.
After losing two minutes to an illegal wheel change and more time in a crash, critics doubted if Porte had the strength to win a grand tour. Porte fell sick and could not lead the 2014 Giro team. That July, he suffered when he was given his chance to be Sky’s plan B in the Tour.
He went some way to answer those critics on La Pierre-Saint-Martin Tuesday. He could do more, perhaps win a stage, in the coming two weeks of the Tour. More than 45 minutes back on GC, partly due to time lost on stage 4’s cobblestones, Porte is not a threat to the overall podium contenders. A stage win, plus Tuesday’s performance, would set him up well for 2016, when he will leave Team Sky and, according to some reports, join van Garderen at team BMC Racing.
Before his Giro “disappointment,” Porte led Sky to overall wins in the Paris-Nice, the Volta a Catalunya, and the Giro del Trentino. Today he showed himself again as an invaluable helper and a potential grand tour leader, something that BMC would be keen to tap into.
Porte, still standing at the front door of Sky’s bus, said that he learnt from the mistakes that he made when he was plan B to Froome over the last two Tours. In this Tour, he said that he and others like Geraint Thomas would have their chance to lead Froome.
“Richie squeezed everyone, and then Froome just attacked,” sport director Nicolas Portal said.
“We told Richie this morning, you are going to be good, but he’s said that he didn’t have any mountain racing since the Giro.
“We believe in him, though, we know him well. His help, even if everyone knows he’s leaving Sky, shows that he’s here to help Froome win.”