Critérium du Dauphiné race director Bernard Thévenet pulled off something of a coup in plotting out the route of the 16.4-kilometre stage 4 time trial in the steep hills of the Forez region close to Saint-Étienne.
Ineos Grenadiers team leader Geraint Thomas described the test as one of the most taxing that he's tackled in his career. Meanwhile, his Australian teammate Richie Porte couldn't say what kind of rider it suited after he came through with the quickest ride of the day, at the time, and was eventually good enough for sixth place behind winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech).
"I don't really know who it was for, to be honest. It was such a hard course to get into a rhythm, but I guess my form is pretty good," Porte said at the finish line. "I'm happy with that. The course was horrible. It's such a hard time trial. I'm not confident that my time will stand as the best, but all things considered it's not a bad ride."
Asked if he'd got the pacing of the course spot on, Porte admitted that he couldn't gauge it accurately, but did say – like Thomas – that his legs felt empty during the tougher second part of the stage.
"I don't know if I nailed it. I think I was good in the first half. But the second half I had nothing in my legs," he said. "It was just a case of trying to stay as aero as possible on the climbs and I guess use my power-to-weight to my advantage."
When the final riders had slogged their way to the top of the final hill, a small group of enthusiastic fans greeting their arrival with long blasts on air horns, Porte's ride put him in seventh place on GC, 16 seconds back on leader Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe).
More importantly, the Australian is just seven seconds behind the first of the likely GC contenders, Astana-Premier Tech's Ion Izagirre, who is tied for third in the overall with Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-QuickStep. Thomas is just one place and eight seconds behind him.
Would this lead to a change in the Ineos hierarchy, Porte was asked?
"Geraint's the leader," he said. "I think he's happy for me to be up there. But, looking at the weekend, it's going to be all hands on deck I think and Geraint's the one with the runs on the board."
Porte, though, appears to be in the form that saw him finish second in Catalunya back in March behind teammate Adam Yates and second in Romandie a month ago behind Thomas. Coming after his third place at the Tour de France last season, what could arguably be the most consistently good run of form during his career looks highly likely to continue for Porte.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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