"No silly business," was his exact wish, but in the end the stage around Bois d'Arcy was anything but silly, and Porte's ambitions of winning the overall for the third time in his career were hanging by a thread when he was caught out in a crosswind split. He wasn't the only overall contender to miss the move as Lotto Soudal and Quick-Step destroyed the field with echelon skills straight from the Belgian textbook.
For almost two hours, Porte and his BMC Racing teammates toiled in the wind and rain as the gap to the lead group sat at more than a minute. The Australian found assistance in Trek-Segafredo and Orica-Scott as both teams missed the split for their respective leaders in Alberto Contador and Simon Yates, but up ahead Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors), Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) threatened to run away with the race.
In the end, Porte rescued a slight victory from what he admitted could have been a complete disaster, as he dropped Contador and clawed back a few precious seconds on Alaphilippe and the rest. Arnaud Demare won the stage, with Porte conceding 47 seconds to the FDJ sprinter and Alaphilippe. Dan Martin and Gallopin created a 38 second buffer over the Tour Down Under winner, while Contador lost 14 seconds to his former Saxo teammate. It was bad, but it could have been much, much worse.
"It was a disaster but not too much of a disaster," Porte said after the finish line.
"We lost some time, but in the end we took a bit more time back on some of the other favourites. The race isn't over. Today wasn't ideal, but my team were fantastic and they really controlled that. Tomorrow is another day."
With more mountainous stages to come and the individual time trial suited to his characteristics, Porte will not panic after Sunday's performance. However, the news of teammate Michael Schar leaving the race with a suspected broken collarbone will do little to improve the mood at the BMC dinner table this evening.
Scanning down the results, Porte will see that Contador and Yates have been distanced by 17 seconds and that Romain Bardet is out of the race altogether after the French GC hope was disqualified.
The Quick-Step duo of Alaphilippe and Martin are now major contenders for the overall and have to be spoken about in the same breath as Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Sergio Henao - the latter sits just nine seconds off the lead.
"Once it splits like that and it's such a big group it's hard but it’s not over," Porte said. "There are some strong guys in front but there’s still a lot of racing to go."
Like Porte, BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz chose to see the positive side from a disappointing day, and he pointed to the fact that at one point BMC's overall challenge looked over after less than 100 kilometres of racing.
"It was a difficult day for everyone. Richie took 17 seconds out of Contador, which was a plus and when you miss a break then you have to chase and we chased as hard as we could, all day," Ochowicz told Cyclingnews.
"At one moment it could have gone to two minutes but they held their ground and the front guys started to hit their max. You could see that at the end. Everyone in the race went as hard as they possible could."
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