Talk about adding insult to injury. Richie Porte's Giro d'Italia hopes, already compromised when he was docked two minutes for an illegal wheel change on Tuesday, may well have been damaged terminally by his fall in the finale of stage 13 to Jesolo.
Cruelly, Porte was within sight of the banner marking the final three kilometres – sanctuary for a general classification contender on a wet, flat and fast day like this – when he was brought down by a crash that appeared to have been sparked by a touch of wheels involving Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin).
Porte and a phalanx of Sky teammates were just behind and, perhaps inevitably, given the Tasmanian's luck in this second week of racing, he was the one who fell, damaging his bike in the process.
As Porte awaited a team car, overall leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), another faller, simply jumped straight aboard teammate Matteo Tosatto's bike and though he lost the pink jersey, he succeeded in limiting the damage.
Moments later, Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), the man who gave Porte that costly wheel change three days ago, came by and looked with concern. "Went past @richie_porte again today when he needed a spare bike from his crash and thought if only I could have offered him mine..." he tweeted afterwards.
After some consultation, Porte decided to accept the bike of Vasil Kiryienka, a man who stands some eleven centimetres taller than him, and he was forced to ride the final three kilometres to the finish out of the saddle, accompanied by Leopold König and Bernhard Eisel.
The verdict of the clock was unforgiving. Porte rolled across the line in Jesolo 2:08 down on the stage and he now slips to 17th overall, 5:05 off the new maglia rosa, Fabio Aru (Astana).
"I was down in amongst it. There's not much you can do, is there, when everyone in front of you goes down," Porte told Cyclingnews after thanking Eisel and König for their efforts.
A television crew spotted Porte amid the crash victims ghosting through the finish area and thrust a microphone in his face. "What's happened, Richie?" they asked.
Porte took a breath and managed to summon up another half-smile. "What's happened? There was a crash," he said. "It's just how it is today. It's wet and nervous. It wasn't really a big surprise there was a crash to be honest."
As Porte made his way towards his team bus, he confirmed that he had been just shy of the 3km to go mark when he fell. After the commissaires had so diligently followed the letter of the law in penalising him on Tuesday, he must have known there was little hope of a reprieve here.
"We'll see what happens. We saw the jury the other day, they don't like changing the rules, do they?" he said. "It happened in Paris-Nice too, and they changed it, so we'll just see."
General classification chances gone?
From the very outset of this Giro, Porte had earmarked Saturday's time trial from Treviso to Valdobbiadene as his chance to move into the pink jersey ahead of the final week in the high mountains. Instead, he faces into the 59-kilometre test simply trying to breathe life into his fading general classification hopes.
Porte now lies more than five minutes off Aru, 4:46 behind Contador and 3:03 down on Rigoberto Uran (Etixx-QuickStep). Sky directeur sportif Dario Cioni hinted that his ambitions might have to be revised.
"We'll see if we're still going for the general classification. First of all we'll try to win the time trial and then we'll decide," Cioni said. "There's the time trial tomorrow and we always said that we’d take stock after the time trial. Clearly, luck hasn't been on our side and there's nothing to say about the crash today. We were well-positioned but it seems some people were intent on taking on risks."
Cioni confirmed that Porte had not suffered any significant injuries in his fall and that the reason for his delay was the need to change his bike, and he was nonplussed by a question from Italian television on the meaning of the Australian's smile during his forlorn chase effort.
"I don't know about the reaction. Everybody responds in his own way," Cioni said. "The gap was already pretty big yesterday, now it's like this. With the penalty and now another two minutes of bad luck, the gap is big."
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