• "I guess the organisers got what they wanted"... Daniel Martin receives a new rear wheel after crashing with Richie Porte on the descent of the Mont du Chat. (Tim de Waele/Getty)Source: Tim de Waele/Getty
As gut-wrenching as Richie Porte's crash was on the ninth stage of the Tour, the organisers should take no blame for what transpired on this drama-filled day, writes Anthony Tan.
Cycling Central
10 Jul 2017 - 6:33 PM  UPDATED 10 Jul 2017 - 6:46 PM

Following the sixth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné where the peloton got their first taste of the seldom-used Mont du Chat in a race situation, a few of Chris Froome's rivals questioned why he rode so aggressively on the descent into La Motte-Servolex. Riding the way he did, he could have risked his entire Tour campaign, they said.

A number also questioned his tactics on the eighth stage of last year's Tour de France, where he attacked on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde and soloed to the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon, just 13 seconds ahead of a chase group led by Daniel Martin. Going nuts on the downhill and risking life and limb all for a handful of seconds - was it really worth it, Froomey? Reporters asked him afterwards if he had practiced riding on the top tube like he did before he stunned the world with such a daredevil feat.

Even for someone so heavily vested in the outcome, the inclusion of the Mont du Chat was not unreasonable.

"Quite a lot, actually," he said, on a day he also took the maillot jaune and subsequently held it all the way to Paris. "During training camps me and the other Sky riders try and make it fun by racing each other on the descents."

It seems obvious now that with just three hilltop finishes in this year's Grande Boucle, the descents would be an area that some like Froome and Romain Bardet would exploit. The past two decades, it hasn't happened that much, though in recent years, as Tour director Christian Prudhomme, who took over from Jean-Marie Leblanc as director general in 2007, has tried to create a more varied and less predictable parcours, it is certainly occurring more often than it used to. And as such, those armed with not just superior climbing ability, but noteworthy downhill prowess, are latching onto the fact, and, when the opportunity arises, using it to their advantage.

On Sunday's ninth stage, Bardet's AG2R La Mondiale team piled on the pressure on the descent of the Col de la Biche, the first of three hors catégorie climbs, which saw the undoing of second-placed overall Geraint Thomas, his fifth fall this race abruptly ending his second Grand Tour in succession; and on the Mont du Chat it was Froome and Bardet that took to the front, not just in pursuit of Team Sunweb's Warren Barguil but to test the nerve of the company they kept.

Irishman Martin, riding for Quick Step Floors, in the groupe maillot jaune over the top and directly behind BMC Racing leader Richie Porte, afterwards said "Richie just lost his wheel going into the corner". "We were fifth or sixth position in the group, following the others, and it was just so slippery in the trees. His back wheel hit some gravel or something... His back wheel slid and he went straight onto the grass, on a right-hander - and he just came straight across the road and hit the wall on the right and just collected me. I didn't have anywhere to go.

"I think I'm okay, actually - remarkably. I seemed to have bounced (back) pretty well. There's someone looking out for me today, that's for sure."

Obviously, the same cannot be said for Porte, who, in the stomach-churning crash, fractured his right collarbone and pelvis. BMC Racing chief medical officer Dr Max Testa said their star rider would require "four to six weeks' recovery, providing there are no complications. If everything goes to plan, Richie could be back on the bike at the beginning of August and slowly build his fitness up from there," he said.

Porte's broken bones a big blow to BMC
Richie Porte has abandoned the Tour de France leaving his devastated team to wonder what may have been.

Martin, who dropped from fourth to sixth overall, appeared to apportion blame on the Tour itself, saying "I guess the organisers got what they wanted". Moments later, he appeared to qualify his earlier remark: "We take the risks, but for sure today the route didn't help with the rain. There was a lot of gravel on the road and a lot of fast technical downhills. If you're not safe in the first five riders..."

Is it fair to blame to the Tour organisers, though?

True, the Mont du Chat is a climb with a perilous descent and had not been used since the '74 Tour. However with the exception of Sunday's stage winner Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac, each of the first six place-getters all rode the Dauphiné in June, as did Porte. Asked if the climb was too dangerous to be used in the Tour de France, replied BMC Racing sport director Fabio Baldato, who was first on scene when the Tasmanian went down: "We knew before. We did (the Mont du Chat) four times before the race. We did (the climb) in training, we did (it) in the race (at the Dauphiné); we knew it was a dangerous one. I cannot say anything else."

Tour de Carnage: Porte crashes out, Uran wins the stage
Australia's Richie Porte crashed out of the Tour de France on the descent of the Mont du Chat. Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) was declared the winner over Warren Barguil (Sunweb) in Chambery after commissaires again had to consult the photo.

In other words, even for someone so heavily vested in the outcome, the inclusion of the Mont du Chat was not unreasonable.

If there was loose gravel as Martin claims, why did Porte and he go down and the others up front, pushing as hard or harder, did not? Quite possibly bad luck; quite possibly the road surface; quite possibly the wrong line under a situation of immense pressure.

Whatever the case, it only reinforces how complete a rider has to be to win a race like the Tour de France, and what is needed is part form, part function, part finesse, and, of course, part luck.

As dire as the situation is for Richie and BMC Racing, Le Tour will continue to roll on. It's the way it's always been, and will continue to be.