Richie Porte (Team Sky) demonstrated his importance to Sky's ambitions of winning this year's Tour de France by shepherding Chris Froome to the finish line on Alpe d'Huez after the race leader suffered a bout of hunger knock.
The Australian paced Froome to the finish, limiting his leader's loses to Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez to just over a minute. The Sky pair were later handed a twenty-second penalty and a nominal financial hit for feeding in the closing kilometres.
"It was a bit of a mess for us. I don't know all the details but we sent Peter [Kennaugh] back in the valley to get some food but there was no car there," Porte told Cyclingnews from the team's hotel.
"However the team were incredible today. I had quite an easy ride up the mountain for the first time and then Movistar and Katusha took over once we were in the valley. That mean I was quite fresh as we came into the climb for the last time. I had a good day but I think I have to put that down to yesterday and taking it so easy in the time trial. All the GC guys were quite tired today."
Porte set pace for Froome on the lower slopes of Alpe d'Huez and then after being distanced by his leader, Quintana and Rodriguez, managed to claw his way back into contention.
"Valverde was pulling behind but it was more about putting time into Contador and Kreuziger who were the closest on GC. It was just a shame that Chris had that hunger knock otherwise we could have done some more damage."
Contador remains in second overall but has now lost 5:11 to Froome. Quintana has closed to within 5:32 but unless Froome suffers a nightmare in the two remaining Alpine stages he will ride into Paris as the winner of the 100th Tour de France. Porte played down any such talk, pointing to the fact that stage 19 could still provide fireworks.
Saxo-Tinkoff will be licking their wounds this evening, though, after Sky and Movistar soaked up the early pressure and then distanced both Contador and Kreuziger.
"They tried a lot today. They tried on the descent and they tried at the start and they've got their tactics that they're going to try. It's not over, and Chris had a bit of a bad day but Alberto, he had a worse day because he was further down," Porte told Cyclingnews.
After today's stage Rodriguez and Quintana appear to be the strongest candidates to join the podium in Paris. Froome expects Quintana to claim either second or third but Porte also pointed to Rodriguez, who has looked a stronger prospect in the race since his impressive ride at Ventoux.
"Purito is only getting better now and that was an impressive ride by him today. As long as we can manage our bad days I think we should be okay."
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