Quite how Richie Porte must have felt when his punishment was confirmed at 7.30 the previous evening is anyone’s guess, but by the time he showed up for the start of stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia in Forlì on Wednesday morning, the Sky rider was able to offer an even-handed response to the two-minute time penalty imposed upon him by the commissaires, acknowledging ruefully that "rules are rules."
Outside the Team Sky bus, manager Dave Brailsford was more open in his disappointment that the race jury had found Porte was in violation of UCI rule 12.1.040 for accepting a wheel change from Orica-GreenEdge’s Simon Clarke after puncturing in the finale of stage 10.
When the two-minute penalty was added to the 47 seconds he lost on the road, Porte had slipped from 3rd overall at 22 seconds to 12th, some 3:09 off the maglia rosa of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Brailsford had already told Cyclingnews on Tuesday evening that while race judges had applied the UCI regulations, the idea of fair play between the riders and the "spirit of the law" had not been recognised. "It just goes to show you that you can either live by the letter of the law or the spirit of the law," he said.
At the start of stage 11 in Forli on Wednesday morning, Brailsford expanded his thoughts on what the race jury decision to penalise Porte by two minutes.
"I think proportionality – the reason you’ve got a jury and the reason you’ve got a court of law, most times, is something happens and you get the law out and then you look at the context of actually what happened, and the situation," he told journalists at the start.
"And you don’t just dish out the same. There are different punishments for similar kinds of breaking of the law, but in different circumstances. And I think that’s where a little bit of discretion and a little bit of common sense would have taken the heat out of the situation."
"We gave Gianni Meersman a wheel but does he get two minutes? No. The TGV (at Paris-Roubaix) has come in and the barriers are coming down and we’ve watched the riders ride underneath, but do they get the punishment? No. Everybody understands the rule but I think the consistent application of the rule is important."
Brailsford called for common sense to prevail
"If they (the UCI judges) want to apply the letter of the law to every single infringement that they and we see every day –touching a car, hanging onto a car– it would make the sport impossible. I think it would be a shame if anybody changes the way the sport’s run, really," he said.
"You’ve got to use common sense and sometimes if a rider is in trouble and you can see he needs assistance and it’s not going to disadvantage anybody else and somebody gives him a hand, or if somebody’s had a puncture and gets in behind another team’s car, whatever it may be, I think most time discretion and common sense should prevail. That’s why the rules are there. I think it’s the application of the rules that’s important not the actual law."
"The next time the barriers are coming down in a race and the TGV is coming, people are going to go ‘Hmmm, I’ll probably get under this and I’ll probably be alright, because they didn’t do anything about it last time. I’ll be alright.’ So I think that’s where a little bit of common sense should prevail.
"But at the end of the day, you know, it was a sporting gesture. If you’re an Australian and you see two Australian lads do that to each other, I think you’d feel pretty good about it to be honest. And even the Giro tweeted it as a pretty good sporting gesture. I think everyone could see the human side of it but ultimately then there’s the administrative side of it."
Porte is now 3:09 down on race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and will start the second half of the Giro d’Italia with a serious handicap. Brailsford argued the decision of the UCI judges has affected the fight for the pink jersey.
"It’s changed the dynamic of the race, hasn’t it?" he said. 'When you had three guys, it was evenly-poised. It’s been fantastic racing and it looked like a three-way battle coming into that final week. Ultimately what makes a great race is suspense, when you don’t know which way it’s going to play out. And the longer that suspense prevails, the better the race is. And if the suspense is taken away because of a rule infringement, then it’s a bit of a shame really. But there we go."
Brailsford has tried to motivate his riders to race on in the Giro d’Italia, as if nothing has happened. He praised Porte’s attitude to the time penalty.
"He just took it on the chin. When you think what actually happened was a gesture of goodwill, he feels okay about it but he’s obviously, I don’t want to say deflated, but he was pumped up and it’s taken the wind out of his sails a bit."
Shortly afterwards, Porte emerged from the Sky bus to talk to reporters. The Tasmanian had already issued a statement via his team’s website early on Wednesday morning and he reiterated those sentiments before riding to sign on.
"Rules are rules. I didn’t know about that rule but there’s nothing we can do now to change the situation," Porte told reporters. "I commend my good mates Simon Clarke and Michael Matthews for helping out. That was a great picture of cycling but I guess the jury see it differently. Hopefully there are the same rules for everybody. To take a positive out of it, I’m just looking forward to getting on my bike today and keeping on going with the race."
A reporter marvelled at the fact that Porte was smiling despite his disappointment. "There’s not much you can do, is there?" the Australian replied, adding that his first thought on puncturing seven kilometres from the finish had simply been to avoid crashing.
"At the end of the day it wasn’t an ideal time to get a puncture but I was lucky not to crash to be honest, it was a fast roundabout and I had to stop on the left which you’re not meant to do but if you don’t have control of your bike there’s not much you can do," he said. "The sun still came up today so we’ll keep fighting."
At least in comparison with the effervescent Fabio Aru and his Astana squad, Porte had ridden relatively conservatively thus far in the Giro in the knowledge that the long time trial to Valdobbiadene on Saturday ought to play to his strengths. He was coy about how his approach would change now that that he trails Contador by minutes rather than seconds.
"I’m sort of the underdog now, coming from behind. It actually feels in some way easier but it hurts to be docked time like that. Today’s another day and we’ll see what happens," he said. "I’m in good condition and we’ll have to see what happens in the time trial and the mountains. It’s a three-week race, there are ten days to go. I feel good, the team is so fired up now by all this."
While Brailsford had taken it upon himself to question the commissaires’ decision to apply the rule, Porte took a rather more fatalistic approach to his punishment, preferring to focus on the task in hand. "I’m not going to really comment on the rules. Maybe they’ll look at it after this, but – happy days – we’ll keep on fighting,"Porte said.
"I don’t think anybody knew about the rule. Simon’s a good mate of mine. He was there, I took the wheel and I’ve paid the price. We’ll get on with it."
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