Richie Porte (BMC) put in an aggressive showing on the first Tour de France stage with a serious mountain-top finish, putting his team to work controlling the race, but the Australian simply could not dislodge defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky). The pair finished together, with Froome taking a four-second time bonus to gain the race lead and inch out his advantage on Porte, who now sits in fifth place at 39 seconds.
Taking an optimistic view on the stage, Porte first complimented his BMC teammates for their hard day's work before expressing some regret with the end result of the stage. "I can't say enough about my team. They were incredible today. They took it off. I think they took it to them," Porte said.
The stage started with a lot of question marks regarding the tactics of the overall contenders. Froome enjoyed a good advantage over his rivals thanks to a strong time-trial on stage 1. Porte trailed Froome by 35 seconds and seemed obliged to try and make up ground. The first-category final climb, La Planche des Belles Filles, was the battlefield.
In the approach to the climb, BMC took the initiative to keep the breakaway group under control. That way, the GC riders were not only fighting for positions on the overall leader board, but also for the stage victory.
In the end, Porte was unable to get that stage win. Italian champion Fabio Aru (Astana) powered away in the final two kilometres and netted a big victory. Porte made a move in the final kilometres but struggled on the final steepest sections. Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Froome preceded him on the line, but Porte seemed content with his performance and the outcome of the stage.
"In the final it slipped away. I'm still happy with my ride in the first mountains stage. I kind of expected a little bit more but it's a long way to go," Porte said from the middle of a media scrum at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles.
The 32-year-old Australian was surprised at how well stage winner Fabio Aru rode. Porte happily reminded the media that pressure can take its toll on the 2015 Vuelta a España champion. "He's incredible. In the Dauphiné he was there but hardly figured and now he's obviously going well. He's going to have more pressure on him now in this race. As we saw last year. He took it off and then exploded on one of the last stages. I took my hat off for him for today. It's a good ride but there's a little bit more pressure on him now," Porte said.
Sports director Valerio Piva said that Sky seemed to be focusing on Porte, allowing other riders like Dan Martin and Fabio Aru to ride away, focusing instead on Froome, who accelerated fiercely at about 1.7km from the finish. Only Porte, Dan Martin and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) were able to keep up.
"Obviously, when [Froome] did his usual squeeze there, he dropped quite a few guys," Porte said, and added that not only Aru but also Froome improved quite a lot since the Criterium du Dauphiné. "He's obviously going better than he was in the last race saw him."
Porte heralded his own BMC Racing Team, while claiming that Team Sky hasn't left a massive impression on him. "Team Sky were not what they were probably last year. Still, they got a lot of pressure coming up. As a unit, today, the BMC Racing Team were the team that made the race. I mean Micky Schär and Stefan Küng basically rode the whole race on the front, and the rest of the guys towards the end. I told the guys to slow down but they actually kept it up. That's a testament to how strong they are," Porte said.
He hinted that this might become a very long Tour de France for Team Sky. "I think they've got plenty of work coming up in the big mountains. Chris Froome has the jersey now, so they're going to have the pressure. They've had to have the jersey since the start of the race and that's going to take its toll, I hope."