Richie Porte (BMC Racing) came into this Tour de France with many pundits playing down his chances of overall victory on account of the supposed ‘bad day’ he always seems to have somewhere over the course of a Grand Tour. With 13 stages down at this Tour, it hasn't been just the one – but three.
After twice being a dealt a rough hand by forces beyond his control – with a puncture towards the end of stage 2 and Thursday's already-famous crash into the back of a motorbike on Mont Ventoux – the third setback was of his own making as he produced a disappointing performance on the 37.5km stage 13 time trial on Friday.
Despite finding himself just 10 seconds down on resounding stage winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) at the first checkpoint – at the top of the 7km incline – Porte finished 3:08 back, conceding just over two minutes to race leader Chris Froome.
He did move up from 11th to 8th overall – thanks to weak displays from Fabio Aru (Astana), Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep), and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) – but finishing on the same time as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and slower than Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) surely represents a disappointment for last year's Australian time trial champion.
"It was such a hard time trial. You couldn't really hear anything on the radio so I was just riding off feel," Porte told reporters after pedaling back to the BMC bus.
"It was so windy out there. I'm not really sure of my times or anything. I wasn't really happy with my sensations – it hurt a lot."
The pain, he explained, came partly from his crash on Ventoux yesterday, where he was helpless to avoid slamming into the back of the motorbike, which had been brought to a halt amid the sea of fans on the mountain.
"Yesterday with the motorbike doesn't really help much either," he grumbled. "I'm a little bit sore from yesterday."
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This Tour de France has quickly descended into an extremely frustrating affair for Porte, who, up to this point, had looked like one of the strongest riders in the race.
Indeed, had he not punctured and lost 1:45 ahead of the finishing climb on stage 2, he would have been second overall at 37 seconds after Ventoux. Had he not had that crash – and this is quickly becoming a fantasy that will be painful for Porte to dwell on – he might have time trialled better and consolidated himself as the principal threat to former teammate Froome, putting himself on course for a first Grand Tour podium finish.
'Might have', however, is a phrase that’s easy to say, and there are those who will look at the continuing theme of setbacks and argue they cannot simply be written off as 'bad luck' - that there must be some sort of deficiency in Porte that makes him vulnerable to this kind of thing.
"It's quite disappointing to be honest. But I’m sure the race is not over yet," said the man himself, his vows to fight on in a race that ‘might have’ been so different becoming ever less heartfelt.
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