But whenever we see the times, it’s so tempting to quickly do the math and see where he’d really be, if he hadn’t had that pesky flat. Or subtract a little more to see where he might be if he hadn’t face planted into a motorbike.
After last night’s time trial, the Tasmanian sits in sixth on the GC, five minutes behind the unflappable Chris Froome (Sky).
But Porte once again pulled serious time on the rest of his rivals in Stage 18. There is only one small minute and eight teasing seconds separating him from second-placed Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). 44 seconds separate the BMC rider from the Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), another standout rider of this year’s Tour.
Without that one minute and 45 seconds lost on the side of the road on Stage 2, Porte would be in second place.
But you can’t get stuck on ‘if only’. Flats are part of bike racing. Face-planting a motorbike, not so much. But unpredictable, fan-related weirdness is part of racing the Tour. And that particular weirdness affected the current first and second place as well.
In my opinion, the best riders aren’t the ones who have the perfect race and win. I’m not even sure that such a thing as a perfect race exists. Especially over 21 stages and three epic weeks.
The best riders, for me, are the ones who respond to imperfection and to challenge and kick it in the face. The riders who find ways to bounce back from the unexpected, to cope with each new test that their sport throws at them.
These athletes show their strength in physique and character as they punch through the field in spite of these things. Athletes who display the qualities Porte is right now. This is what makes Froome such a scary contender too.
While it may look like Froome has had a more-or-less perfect race from the outside, I’m sure he’s had to find creative solutions to problems of his own. We’ve seen some of these as a result of planning for the unexpected, rather than waiting to see if it happens.
Once the racing is underway, we never hear about the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘if onlys’ from the man in yellow. Sure, Sky has assembled an army around the Briton to reduce the impact of any of the negative blows, but he has shown time and time again that he can provide the return they need on that investment, to produce the results when it counts.
Known for being able to take time on his rivals on the climbs, Froome has built a buffer in a variety of other situations, too. A buffer that reduces the pressure in the face of a bad day on the road: a flat, a hunger bonk, calf stress after a run because you cracked your frame and someone stole your bike.
In building that buffer, Froome has demonstrated time and again that he is the most complete rider of this year's Tour, excelling in the time trials, winning with a surprise Froomefrog descent, upstaging the field once again grabbing 12 seconds, including a time bonus for second place, in a mini-breakaway with Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).
If it was Froome that lost nearly two minutes to a flat early in the Tour it certainly wouldn’t have been ideal, but his overarching strategy and performance at this year’s Tour would have seen him able to take it in his stride. Something we’re seeing from Porte in this final week. Bad things happen. A winning strategy has to allow space to incorporate them.
Kevin Eddy wrote this week that we remember the riders who launch the make it or break it attacks. We also remember the fighters. The ones who show that rain, hail or shine, they can produce the standout performances in situations where others simply can’t.
While it’s tempting to keep calculating Porte’s overall time without that flat, what we’re seeing in these last alpine showdowns is someone riding in ways that separate the top GC riders from the rest.
“I’m really looking forward to taking my chance and fighting for that podium,” said Porte after last night’s stage, demonstrating that he’s put the flat tyre, previously dubbed a disaster, behind him.
“What I did today shows that I’m climbing really well at the moment. The team is fully behind me. The podium is so tight. I’ll have to see where to take some time back.”
If Porte does reach that precious podium in Paris, it won’t be because he had the perfect race, and it won’t be because someone subtracted the time he lost on Stage 2. And as far as results go, it will be that much more satisfying because of it.