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Tour de France

Nightmare flat dents Porte’s yellow jersey bid

"At the end of the day it is only a bike race isn’t it?" says Richie Porte after an untimely puncture in stage 2 costs him a minute and 40 seconds

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Richie Porte (BMC) lived the GC rider’s nightmare on Sunday.

He flatted his rear wheel while riding at the front around 5km to go. Normally, a flat is just a nuisance and a small waste of energy. But this flat came at the worst possible time.

Porte was outside the 3km GC safety zone. Most of his teammates were already gone, shed by their work for Greg van Avermaet. The road had begun to climb, and wouldn’t top out until the finish line. The change was slow, from the neutral service car rather than his own team car. The whole episode — which would cost him 1’40” by the finish — could hardly have been worse for a man who dreams of yellow.

The Australian was understandably frustrated as he stepped out of the team bus toward a wall of cameras and microphones.

“It was a disaster, but what can you do?” Porte said. “You are sitting second wheel in perfect position, and I don’t know what the hell I hit. But next thing the rear tire went down.

“The Tour is far from over. It is quite a hard one to take, but at the end of the day I guess we just try and pretend it never happened and wait for the mountains to come.”

It was not the first unlucky grand tour episode for Porte. He was penalized two minutes at the 2015 Giro for an illegal wheel change in the final kilometers. Asked if he felt that Lady Luck has abandoned him, more so than other contenders, he couldn’t help but agree.

“Yeah … sometimes. But at the end of the day it is only a bike race isn’t it? I am sure the sun will come up tomorrow,” he said.

The time loss opens up questions about BMC’s co-leader strategy. The team entered the Tour with a pair of leaders, Porte and Tejay van Garderen. Despite Porte’s plummet, the team insisted that Porte he’s merely down, but not out, of his leadership role.

“Nothing has changed. It’s too early,” said Ochowicz.

Co-leader van Garderen, too, said that the team’s original two-pronged plan remains its best option.

“We’re co-leaders,” van Garderen said. “Anything can happen, you know. We saw Contador lost time today, and crashed yesterday. Richie lost time today. Any one of these next 19 days could be my turn for bad luck.”

Porte, likely more out of frustration than anything, spoke of stage hunting in the final week. That would require him to drop off the radar of other GC contenders by losing more time. He also admitted that van Garderen’s prospects were now better, at least in the near term.

“Obviously, Tejay has not lost any time on the main GC guys but we will just take it day by day,” he said.

The 1’40” Porte lost was no real fault of his own. He chased hard, hunting the back of the peloton, eventually with the help of Marcus Burghardt. But the race was on ahead. There is no getting back to a field at full gallop with so little left to race.

The lack of domestiques was due to BMC’s focus on van Avermaet’s stage chances. All but one rider had already made big pulls in the lead up to the final climb. By the time Porte flatted, most of the team was off the back.

“They were behind Richie when he was making the change, so there was nothing they could do to help,” said BMC manager Jim Ochowicz. “They couldn’t catch Richie. It was on the hill, even. Caruso did come back, but [first] he had to figure out, ‘where’s Richie, is he coming back? Where’s Greg? Where’s Tejay?’

“You can’t plan for those sort of things. We made the best of the situation that we could,” Ochowicz said.