Richie Porte conceded 22 seconds of his lead during stage 7 at the Tour de Suisse to a long-range successful attack from Movistar's Nairo Quintana, but the BMC rider held onto the yellow jersey, thanks to some furious pace-setting by teammate Greg Van Avermaet.
After Quintana made his move with 25km to go, Porte was forced to lead the chase, but when the Colombian kicked a second time, Porte wisely waited to rely on the help of his team. Tejay van Garderen made his way back to the group to briefly help chase, but it was Van Avermaet, who dropped back from the early breakaway, who proved critical to limiting Porte's losses.
"That was a long climb and I don't think we ever expected Nairo to go that early but that's racing," Porte said. "I wasn't expecting an attack so early on the bottom of the climb but I had Tejay there with me and then a super Greg Van Avermaet, who did a fantastic job for me. I didn't stress too much and I gave it everything so, hats off to Nairo, he was super strong today and I think he thoroughly deserved the stage win."
Quintana flirted with a virtual maillot jaune as his gap hovered close to nullifying the 45-second deficit with which he began the stage, rode the remnants of the early breakaway off his wheel when the gradients steepened. But a full-on sprint from Van Avermaet just before the road tilted more aggressively upward knocked Quintana's lead down dramatically. It was then up to Porte to put in a full-gas 3km effort to keep the race lead.
He found an ally in Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) in the final 2km, and together they kept Quintana to 22 seconds, keeping Porte in the lead by 17 seconds over Quintana, with Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) narrowly keeping third at 52 seconds. Porte is now eyeing the final 34km individual time trial as the key stage to take home the overall race victory.
"I lost some time on the GC but I'm still looking forward to the time trial. We've still got to get through tomorrow's stage but I think normally I am not a bad time trialist so, I'm here to try and win this race and I think it is looking good now. I'm happy with where my form is at. I was good yesterday as well and I hope to have the legs that I need for Sunday."
Porte remembered the team's owner Andy Rihs, who died from leukemia earlier this year - a Swiss citizen who would have been thrilled to see his team victorious on his home soil for the first time.
"I think Andy Rihs would have been very proud of us at his home race. It's obviously sad to have lost Andy this year. He was probably one of the best sponsors cycling has ever seen and it's hard to replace someone like that. He did so much for us all and was a fantastic character. Hans Rihs, his brother, was at the race yesterday and it was nice to see that he still has the same enthusiasm."
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