What a difference four kilometres and a few days can make. After stage 2 of Paris-Nice, the BMC Racing Team appeared all at sea after their Richie Porte shipped almost 15 minutes in the crosswinds that blew across northern France. The team looked defeated, on their knees, and with little left to fight for. Their directors scratched their heads as they looked for excuses, and in the end pointed to bad luck and the loss of Michael Schär as to why Porte's title bid had sunk.
However, by the time the Australian climber crossed the line atop the Col de la Couillole to win stage 7, he and the team were back on course. There was still no way of saving the overall, but a stage win nonetheless rescued the week and put a different complexion on the American team's race.
"It's incredible satisfaction. Words don't sum the feelings up. I have an incredible team behind me and they never lost their faith in me all week. I wasn't always easy to deal with this week and it's been a little bit disappointing but today goes a little bit to the way of making up for that," the Tour Down Under winner said at the finish.
Porte attacked at the perfect moment, just after Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) had ended all pleasantries with a dangerous move of his own. The Spaniard's surge reduced the group of favourites to a select group of four, with Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors), Porte, and Sergio Henao (Sky) hanging onto the Trek rider's coattails.
As Contador swung off, the pace momentarily eased and Porte took his chance, jumping on the pedals and instantly creating a gap. There was barely a glance back from the BMC man as Contador and Henao looked at each other to do the chasing.
When Contador finally countered and dropped Henao it was too late to catch Porte and the Australian held on to take this third uphill finish of the season. Contador crossed the line in second at 30 seconds, with Dan Martin recovering to take third. Henao rolled over the line in fourth but pulled on the yellow jersey after Julian Alaphilippe cracked.
For Porte, the win signalled an end to a difficult period and although he rose to 12th – and should continue to move up with one tough stage still to go – the win was all that mattered.
"This goes a little way to being a bandage but today was an incredible day from the team. The boys rode on the front and they showed faith in me after the disaster from earlier in the week. I must tip my cap to those guys. It's not over and we've still got another hard stage tomorrow. To win on this stage means so much for me."
The loss of time in the cross-winds during the opening two days of racing will still hurt Porte, who came into this race looking for his third title but after a night of reflection he will be acutely aware that more important objectives lie further ahead.
"It wasn't easy to line up on Tuesday morning after the disaster and it was a shame to throw it away like that. At the end of the day it keeps me hungrier and it's only March. The big goal for me is obviously July."
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