While Tadej Pogačar (Team UAE Emirates) pulled off the biggest surprise of the day by snatching the yellow jersey from Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and setting up overall victory at the Tour de France, Richie Porte also created a moment he will never forget, producing a superb time trial performance to climb onto the final podium in Paris.
The 35-year-old Trek-Segafredo rider finished third in the time trial, gaining enough time to jump past Miguel Ángel López (Astana Pro Team), who dropped to sixth overall.
Porte has ridden the Tour de France 10 times in his career, placing as high as fifth in 2016, but has twice crashed out and been scarred by the emotions of defeat.
He missed the birth of his second child to compete at this year’s race and never gave up hope of pulling off a result in his final Tour de France as a team leader, despite setbacks and minor time losses during the three weeks. Porte is expected to join Ineos Grenadiers as a key support rider for Egan Bernal in 2021.
If the times remain unchanged on Sunday, Porte will finish 3:30 down on Pogačar, 2:31 down on Roglič and join them on the final podium on the Champs-Élysées at sunset for that iconic photograph.
"To finally crack the podium is an incredible feeling. It’ll take a while to sink in," Porte admitted in the post-race press conference before the final journey to Paris.
"It’s been a long journey with the battles I’ve had and the drama along the way, so I’m just so happy to finally be on the podium in the Tour de France.
"For me it’s an absolute dream. I grew up watching the Tour de France on the other side of the world, seeing guys like Robbie McEwen, Brad McGee and the greatest of them all, Cadel Evans. It doesn’t matter what other races you’ve won, the Tour’s the one that you're always judged on," Porte said. "To finally crack the podium, that’s the picture I want on the wall at home, in Paris on the podium; it means so much to a bike rider. It’s just so incredible to finally do it, it feels like a victory to be honest."
Porte started the time trial 1:39 down on Lopez, but was quietly confident he could pull back enough time on the tough 36km course and the final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles.
"There are always doubts in your mind and Lopez is a great little bike rider," Porte explained. "I knew the two Slovenians were on another planet, but it's been a good battle between us. I knew that I should be able to beat him in a time trial but you always have lingering doubts.
"With three kilometres to go, my DS Kim Andersen told me on the radio I was going to get my dream and it was such a sweet moment."
The Trek-Segafredo team started the Tour de France with multiple goals, with Bauke Mollema also a team leader until he crashed and Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen allowed to fight in the sprints. Pedersen, the world champion, was also Porte’s bodyguard in the peloton, earning him extra praise.
"The team has been incredible, it’s been a great three weeks,” Porte said. "Mads Pedersen has been incredible for me, he’s probably got more belief in me than I have. Every night he’d come to my room and tell me how it’d be and that I’d be fine if I follow his wheel. And it was.
"You can’t achieve this without a team. And what a team we have."
Porte's personal sacrifice
Porte’s family has also formed a special team around him, with his wife Gemma accepting Richie would miss the birth of their second child. It was a huge sacrifice to chase a personal goal.
"When the whole coronavirus thing kicked off and the season was rescheduled, I knew I was going to miss the birth but my wife Gemma told me, 'Go to the Tour, do your thing'. She had a plan for the rest," Porte revealed.
"The only thing she said to me was that she’d be pissed with me if she turned on the television and saw me at the back of the peloton. The team actually gave me the option to leave the race and that’s incredible of them to do that.
"I came here with a mission, so to do this, it goes a little bit towards making it worthwhile. I came here in great shape and I’ve never really felt that much fatigue."
Porte will stand on the Tour de France podium with an overjoyed Pogačar and perhaps a disappointed Roglič. The two Slovenians had battled throughout the Tour de France, with Roglič always seeming set to win ahead of his younger compatriot. The time trial changed all that.
After all of his personal Tour de France disappointment, Porte was able to empathise with Roglič.
"I take my hat off to Roglič. It’s brutal what happened to him today," Porte said. "Jumbo-Visma rode an incredible race and probably deserves to win to be honest. Nothing against Pogačar, of course, because he's a huge talent.
"They’re both massive champions. Slovenians throw bricks at each other, there’s no holding back. Roglič attacked with just 500 metres to go the other day in yellow and that’s just how it is."
Porte warned that Pogačar leads a new generation of Tour de France riders.
"Chris Froome was winning absolutely everything and now we’ve got this next generation of young guys. They’re so good, it’s scary," Porte said.
"Pogačar has got balls. He lost time in the crosswinds but took it back. I don’t think he can race that way next year - he’ll be a marked man - but I think the sky's the limit for Pogačar."
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