Richie Porte (BMC Racing) was the big winner on Stage 15 of this year's Tour de France, a day where the GC battle fizzled out rather than popped.
Porte advanced to seventh on the general classification, 4m27 behind yellow jersey wearer Chris Froome (Team Sky), after teammate Tejay van Garderen faltered on the final ascent of the Lacets du Grand Colombiere.
Indeed, a dummy attack from Chris Froome and brief surges from Fabio Aru (Astana), Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was the sum of the GC action on the stage, with van Garderen the only casualty.
“When it looked like [Nairo] Quintana was going to attack he [Froome] threw a little dummy attack in and that just quietened everybody down,” said Porte after the stage. “His team is pretty strong too so we’ll see what happens in the next few days.”
The final climb on the 23.5km finishing circuit proved most testing for the main group. When questioned on the lack of action from the GC riders, Porte admitted that if riders could have attacked, they would have.
“It wasn’t so bad the last time up it but the second last time up was, I mean, everybody was on their limit, especially when Diego Rosa [Astana] did his turn,” Porte said. “I think that put quite a lot of guys’ days to an end. I’m happy to come through that like I did.”
The descent into the finish in Culoz also presented a challenge.
“At the best of times that’s a sketchy descent but when the road is melting and there’s loose gravel on the surface it’s not so nice,” Porte continued. “I think Mikel Nieve of Sky also crashed hard there but it’s one of those elements of the race, throw a descent into the finish.”
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Porte looked comfortable in the mix with Froome and fared better than BMC teammate and co-leader Tejay van Garderen, who lost contact within the last 12km and dropped from sixth to eighth overall, with Porte now seventh.
“To be honest I felt fine, just the pace was pretty incredible,” van Garderen said. “I can’t say it was bad sensations, it was just above the level I had on the day.”
Where to attack Froome?
With four epic Alpine stages looming, the question remains when and where Froome’s rivals will make their bid to gain time.
BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz said an attack from Porte or van Garderen at the end of the 160km stage from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz on Sunday would have been superfluous in the grand scheme of the Tour.
“Nobody is going to let them just fly away from the peloton so it’s a difficult thing to do, as you’ve seen in the race today, even with Bardet, Valverde and others trying to make attacks nobody is getting away,” Ochowicz said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re one minute behind or 10 minutes behind nobody is going to get a free hand at being in the front. You’ve got to take your chances when you can but you don’t know when those opportunities are always going to appear.
"They do, they sometimes come at you and then you seize it and you see what you can do with it. It’s one of those you risk it all.”