Richie Porte (BMC Racing) was given an armchair ride to the finish of stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse and moved into the race lead as a result. The Australian was shepherded by a superb BMC Racing Team during the first mountain stage of the race, and on the final climb Greg Van Avermaet, Stefan Küng and then Tejay van Garderen pulled on the front to ensure that the GC contenders finished on the same time.
Diego Ullisi (UAE Team Emirates) won the stage, while the rest of the bonus seconds were taken by Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) and Tom-Jelte Slagter (Dimension Data). Porte finished eighth and now leads Sam Oomen and Wilco Kelderman (both Sunweb) by 20 seconds. Every stage bar one in the remaining few days will have a bearing on the GC, but Porte cut a content figure as he made his way from the podium to the media centre.
"It wasn't an easy stage," he told Cyclingnews before his official press conference.
"We covered the first 100km in the first couple of hours and it was full gas. The guys were really good and they did the perfect job. I didn't feel the best today so I'm happy to have held on."
After BMC Racing had won the opening time trial, the onus was on Movistar and their climbers Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa to go on the offensive. They started the day 36 seconds off the lead, and with the final time trial still to come, they knew that stage 5 to Leukerbad was a key opportunity for them to draw back time. On the final climb, Landa followed the predicted script. His acceleration caught the remnants of an earlier move and put an end to Küng's spell in yellow.
The Spaniard's move with 6.8km was impressive, and he quickly drew out 14 seconds, but a stiff headwind and a fine turn from van Garderen helped to nullify the move. When van Garderen eventually peeled off, Porte could rely on several stage hunters, such as Mathias Frank (AG2R) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) to keep the tempo high. Landa held a slight lead until the final few hundred metres before Ulissi powered clear to take the win. Landa faded and lost 14 seconds on the line, while Porte could celebrate his first leader's jersey since last year's Critérium du Dauphiné.
"That was always going to happen, but there was a pretty stiff headwind so maybe it wasn't the best move, but they had to try," Porte said of Landa's move.
"I wasn't really worried. Greg had it under control, and then Tejay van Garderen did a super job there as well. Then it became all about the stage win and it came back pretty quickly. I'm just happy to be back racing and having some good form.
"When Landa attacked, it put us under a little bit of pressure, but I think van Garderen did a great ride to keep him close. It was a pretty stiff headwind so there wasn't too much panic, but now it's guys like Kelderman that we have to worry about with the time trial."
The Tour de Suisse is Porte's final race before the Tour de France in July. Although he still faces uncertainty, owing to the uncertain future of BMC Racing, the Australian has remained relaxed throughout the season. He started the year well at the Tour Down Under, but illness ruined his spring. He returned to form at the Tour de Romandie in April and finished third. At his press conference, he admitted that time was running out for him at the Tour de France, but at this point in time confidence is certainly high.
"Yellow at the Tour is the ultimate dream, but I'm happy with yellow here. Going into the Tour I think my form is where it needs to be," he said.
"It's been a different start to the year. I got sick in February and March, and I've been building since then. I was third in Romandie and quite happy with that, and I've been back home training in Monaco. I've got a great team behind me. I'm getting older now so this is one of my last big opportunities to go the Tour and have as good a race as I can."
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