• Richie Porte (BMC) is fighting for a podium all the way to Paris (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Richie Porte remains in the hunt to podium at his first Tour de France as an outright team leader after moving up to fifth overall on the penultimate day in the Alps.
Sophie Smith

Cycling Central
23 Jul 2016 - 6:18 AM  UPDATED 23 Jul 2016 - 7:21 AM

The 31-year-old had a complaint about tyre pressure when he arrived at the BMC Racing bus following the 19th stage, which despite a single place advancement on the general classification wasn’t smooth sailing.

Porte has one more day in the Alps to gain time and realise his ambition of making the podium in Paris on Sunday, likely next to current race leader and former Sky team-mate Chris Froome, who he was aiding just last year. Stage 20 features a descent into the finish in Morzine, which forecast rain could animate as much as it did in the crash-marred Stage 19. 

“We’re still going to go in there tomorrow and think we can do that (podium),” BMC Racing general manager Jim Ochowicz said. “There’s no reason not to, we’re a minute out of second place, we’re in fifth, it’s reachable.

“Under these conditions, you know, in the mountains, with the weather, with the descent to the finish, anything is possible.”

Stage 19 to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc was an exciting one for the general classification and saw heavily rain-soaked roads claim marquee casualties that affected standings.

Porte wasn’t exempt with a mechanical that race organisers reported in the final 30km of the 146km alpine run later confirmed as a crash on a descent that left his elbow bloodied.

BMC team-mates Marcus Burghardt, Michael Schar and Damiano Caruso helped pace the Tasmanian back to the yellow jersey group that others were not so lucky to return to in the crash affected stage.  

Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) crashed on the immediate lead-in to the summit finish and despite a desperate effort couldn’t reconnect. He dropped from second overall, the position he’d held since Stage 12, to 10th as a result.

A skin grazed Froome declined to speak to the media at large after he crashed on a slippery corner and rode the final climb on team-mate Geraint Thomas’s bike. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) earlier was forced to abandon after a crash in which he broke his wrist.

“It was remarkable,” Ochowicz said. “Thank goodness we had guys there and they rallied around him (Porte) and got him back on his feet, put him in a straight line and chased. It took them about 10-12km to get back on because it was still downhill, pretty fast and of course he already crashed once so (was) more cautious in the turns coming back.

“We had enough strong guys, they all came back, so it wasn’t about whether he was going to get back for the climb, it was when. He needed time to regroup himself, make sure everything was cool and then start the climb.”

Caruso led the main group with Porte on his wheel as the gradient to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc increased. Up the road, Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) looked more likely to win, which he did to move into second overall.

Caruso peeled off inside the last three kilometres where Porte frequently looked around and made a series of accelerations that Nairo Quintana (Movistar) marked. He was dropped inside the last kilometre to finish the stage 10th. Asked if Porte may have led or surged too early, Ochowicz intimated it was irrelevant at this stage of the game.

“They’re racing by feel,” Ochowicz said. “I think he was feeling like he maybe could and he had to try. If you’re trying to get to the podium you can’t just sit there. He had to take the risk with whatever he had left to try and get to the podium today and he did. He moved up one place.”

In any case Porte has cause to celebrate in the capital on Sunday with a career best Tour performance he has prepared for with relatively new responsibility and a team he’s been with for seven months.

“It’s very impressive. He’s taken a great challenge on here with us and certainly has performed all year. Since Tour Down Under until today, in all the stage races he’s done, he’s been consistently performing with the frontrunners,” Ochowicz said.

“He’s doing it again here and this race is not over. We’re going to keep fighting along.”

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