Richie Porte (BMC Racing) experienced just how cruel the Tour de France can be when he punctured inside the final five kilometres of stage 2. The Australian, who had until then ridden the perfect race, lost 1:45 to his rivals by the time he dragged himself over the line, with his ambitions of a podium place taking a severe dent.
Porte had looked comfortable throughout most of the stage, sitting near the front and avoiding incidents while his BMC teammates sat around him. Then in the blink of an eye, just as the race was at full throttle and heading towards the final climb, he punctured.
As he stood by the side of the road, with the neutral service taking what seemed like an age to replace his back wheel, one could almost sense the rider cursing his circumstances as his shoulders dropped and his head titled to the heavens as if to ask, 'why me?'
"It was a disaster but what can you do?" Porte told reporters at the team bus after the finish.
"You're sitting second wheel, and in the perfect position and then… I don't know what I hit but the next minute the rear tire went down. It's a disaster but I don't know what you can do…. Just move on I suppose."
For a while, Porte was left on his own with no teammates to help mount a chase. BMC were still protecting their other GC asset, Tejay van Garderen, while Greg Van Avermaet was hunting for the stage win. Eventually Marcus Burghardt appeared and began pacing Porte to the finish but by then the damage was done. Even with several men to help him Porte would have conceded time.
"I had Marcus Burghardt come back but when you're going that fast, there's not that much you can do in terms of the bike change. It all just happened so quickly, so by the time Burghardt got back to me the bunch was gone anyhow."
Porte, of course, has been in a similar position before, when in last year's Giro d'Italia he punctured on stage 10 to Forlì. That day he took a wheel from Simon Clarke – then of Orica GreenEdge – and was docked two minutes by the race officials.
"It's like last year in the Giro, minus the two-minute penalty, but it probably would have been quicker to take the two-minute penalty than the wheel change that I got anyway," Porte said.
With Alberto Contador also losing time, the overall complexion of the race is starting to take shape, even after two stages. Chris Froome, Fabio Aru, van Garderen and Nairo Quintana all sit 14 seconds off Peter Sagan, who won the stage and now leads. The race is far from over, of course, but Porte will know that his chances of both leading BMC and taking part in the podium fight have taken a blow. BMC may not have to make a call on who is their sole leader if the road keeps deciding for them.
"The Tour is far from over but it's quite a hard one to take," Porte said.
"I think we'll just pretend like it never happened and look forward to the mountains to come. At the end of the day it's just a bike race. I'm sure that the sun will come out tomorrow. It's far from over. Maybe in the third week I can go up the road and go for a stage."
It's not all over for Porte but it's certainly and suddenly looking a lot harder.
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