It was hard to tell if Richie Porte's (BMC) smile was one of disbelief or of resignation as he spoke to reporters past the finish line at Saint-Gervais after stage 19 of the Tour de France. If the BMC man didn't have bad luck on this race, after all, he wouldn't have had any luck at all.
After losing 1:45 when he punctured in the finale of stage 2, Porte looked to be setting his Tour back on track when he crashed into the back of a television motorbike on Mont Ventoux, an incident that conditioned his performance in the following day's time trial in the Ardèche.
Unlike last year's Giro d'Italia, however, when an accumulation of bad luck seemed to take its toll on Porte's psyche as much as his physique, he responded well, and was among the strongest on the Tour's first day in the Alps on Tuesday, and was tipped by Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) as the man most likely to move up to the podium after the final two days of climbing.
A crash on the rain-soaked drop off the Montée de Bisanne, however, put a different slant on Porte's assault on the podium. Although he gamely chased back on and even attacked on the climb to the line, he went on to concede ground when the yellow jersey group broke up on the final ramps before the finish.
"I left a bit of skin back on the descent. It was such a hard day and just a bit of a mess out there in the final, I think everybody kind of came down. I worked well with what I had and tomorrow is another day," Porte said.
"Today even uphill around the corners it was slippery as well. We'll how tomorrow pans out but I gave it my all today."
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Porte crossed the line in 10th place on the stage, 22 seconds behind Chris Froome (Sky) but some 53 behind stage winner Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale). Although Porte has moved up a place on the general classification to fifth, he remains 50 seconds off third place, now held by Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
It was, by any yardstick, a day of high drama on a Tour where the final result has seemed a forgone conclusion for so long. Froome, Porte and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) were all among the fallers on the off the Montée de Bisanne, while Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was forced out of the race by a crash earlier in the day.
"I think a lot of guys crashed but I was the first one down on that descent," Porte said. "It's just a bit of skin, just one of those things. I gave it my all today. The team were just amazing out there. The way they brought me back to the group after the crash and their work on the climbs was phenomenal."
Porte had teammate Damiano Caruso for company in the yellow jersey group on the final climb of Le Bettex, and he set about attempting to close the gap to Bardet, before Porte himself attempted to punch his way clear.
"It was so slippery that you couldn't really attack. When I did try to attack my tyres were slipping, so I tried to ride my tempo and hope that I cracked a few but it didn't quite work out," Porte said.
Instead, after the group had been stretched out Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Fabio Aru (Astana), a flagging Porte lost ground when Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) jumped away on the steepest ramps towards the finish.
Although Porte is only four seconds further away from the podium than he was as the day began, he shrugged off his prospects of overhauling both Quintana and Yates on the road to Morzine on Saturday and cast an eye towards 2017 instead.
"I think it's going to be hard for me now," Porte admitted. "I've had my ups and downs here but for next year I can take away quite a bit of confidence."
Tour de France stage 19 highlights video