Trek-Segafredo did everything right during the queen stage, from placing overnight race leader Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First) under pressure to positioning Porte for the 8.2km summit finish that caused the expected general classification shake-down.
The 34-year-old appeared poised for an attack when an apparent gear problem disrupted his pace with 2.3km of the short but ferocious 127.5km race remaining. Porte rode on, shaking his head as he tried to resolve the problem and keep in touch with the race leaders.
The Australian pushed through switchbacks at the finish to place fourth, 10 seconds behind stage winner and new race leader Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and shoot from 13th to fifth overall with one stage remaining.
The result was of little consolation to Porte in the immediate aftermath of the race. Face covered in sweat, he stopped just past the finish line to accept some warmer clothes from team staff and quietly voice his disappointment before turning to ride away back down the mountain. However once recovered, Porte took confidence from the performance following a lacklustre early season disrupted by illness and race schedule changes with his new team.
“The mechanical in the last kilometres was obviously ill-timed, but I don’t know if I could have won today,” he said.
“Regardless of that mechanical and the result of today, it was nice to be back at the front of a bike race again. Today we made the race hard and it’s just great what the guys did to back me, especially after my last races where things didn’t go as I wanted to.
“It feels really good to be back in the game.”
The stint in California bodes well for Porte, who is preparing for a Tour de France title tilt.
“It has been a great and hard week and my shape has even gotten better since I got here. It would have been nice to be a little better in the GC, but hey, the race isn’t over yet. I am sure tomorrow will be still a hard day,” he said.
The Tour of California finishes tomorrow with a lumpy stage that should still suit sprinters from Santa Clarita to Pasadena.