• For the second year running, heartbreak for Richie Porte at the Tour de France. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
For one reason or another, Richie Porte's promise as a Grand Tour contender remains unfulfilled. Will he get there before time runs out, wonders Anthony Tan?
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Cycling Central
16 Jul 2018 - 3:06 PM  UPDATED 16 Jul 2018 - 3:34 PM

One crash, so many consequences.

I'm talking about Richie Porte, of course.

The way he spoke in the days leading up to the 105th edition, I was thinking to myself, This is a man who has yet to banish memories of last year out of his head.

I don't blame him. How could he? He called July 2017 for what it was: "a disaster". It was also a mistake; under pressure on the perilous descent into Chambery, the Tasmanian took the wrong line, and, in a split second, it was game over.

If you accept the pro cyclist's mantra that it's not if you'll crash but when, does Richie need to learn how to fall more gracefully or simply fall less?

This year was so important. 33 years old, likely meaning one or two chances left. The passing of the team's founder and primary benefactor, Andy Rihs, and with it, an end to the good life he gave to so many since the team's inception in 2007, and particularly from 2010 onwards, when it became their ambition to win Le Tour. (From that point on, the budget, and naturally the riders' remuneration, increased exponentially. At the 2010 Tour Down Under, Rihs joked that BMC stood for 'Better Make Cash'; lucky he had plenty of it beforehand because the company wasn't as profitable as he hoped.)

Meanwhile, BMC Racing president and general manager Jim Ochowicz was working overtime to save the team - an announcement is expected at their first rest day press conference; reports suggest a merger with Poland-based outfit CCC Sprandi - while simultaneously attempting to maintain harmony and unity in a bid to win the 2018 Tour with Porte, who is reported to be moving to Trek-Segafredo in 2019.

However no-one other than Porte, his agent, his wife, and maybe Ochowicz know if that move was set in stone prior to the Grand Depart; whether it was contingent on him finishing the Tour, or finishing within a certain range on the overall classification; or if it is simply hearsay and nothing else - meaning a number of teams were chasing him, and Richie wanted to finish the race in the best possible position before inking a deal.

Last April, in an interview with SBS Television reporter Sophie Smith, he said: "I still feel like I've not quite proven my abilities over the three weeks. I think last year in the (2016) Tour I might have gone closer had I not, you know, found a motorbike to crash into, (and) some of the (other) stuff that happened along the way. That's why I came to BMC to take my chance. I've always been up there in the mountains and time trials, so I do believe that I can be a contender in July. I've always at the back of mind knew that when all things go to plan, I can be a genuine contender."

2017: the year of the matured Porte
Now is his time and Richie Porte is better positioned than ever to become Australia's second ever Tour champion, Sophie Smith writes.

All things going to plan...

No one who's seen him race doubts his ability in the mountains and time trials. It's why Team Sky rated him as the number one threat to defending champion Chris Froome both this year and last. But you can only be a threat if you're in the race and you're there till the end, and as a Grand Tour leader, for one reason or another, that's only happened once.

If you accept the pro cyclist's mantra it's not if you'll crash but when, does Richie need to learn how to fall more gracefully or simply fall less?

A bit of both, I would suggest. It's worth remembering he was a relative latecomer to the sport, having arrived from a swimming and triathlon background, where in the latter, riding cheek by jowl at 70kph, traversing centuries-old cobblestones, and bombing down descents are not, unlike his current métier, prerequisites for success.

And while practicing crashing isn't something you'd recommend, certain riders do come a cropper more than others. Furthermore, when crashes do happen, certain riders seem to come off worse than others. In Sunday's stage, for example, despite the multitude of crashes and tales of carnage there were only two DNFs - Porte and Movistar's José Joaquin Rojas. And in the pile-up that took out Porte, Stefan Küng, the team-mate that was closest to him, among several others, also fell but managed to get back on their bike.

While Mitchelton-Scott head sports director Matthew White is of the view stages like this do not belong in the Tour de France, there is no getting around the fact that if organisers want to include pavé in La Grande Boucle, then one must adapt and be prepared to ride over them. "If you want to be a Tour de France winner you need to be able to do everything," former Under-23 Paris-Roubaix champion, Koen de Kort of Trek-Segafredo, told journalist Richard Moore of The Cycling Podcast. "Of course, bad luck is a bigger factor in stages like these than in the mountains, but it's part of cycling, it's part of racing - and it's definitely part of the modern Tour de France, I think."

What to expect when you're expecting cobbles carnage
It's the perfect entrée for the World Cup Final, as the cobbles of Roubaix shape up as one of the most anticipated stages of this year's Tour de France.
A Sunday in hell, or heaven?
As Sunday's 156 kilometre stage 9 looms, so do the cobbles. Here's what a few of the team directors are saying ahead of the momentous day.

It's also worth noting Tour contender Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) chose to familiarise himself with rough roads on two occasions this season: at Strade Bianche (a brilliant ride saw him finish second to Tiesj Benoot) and at Dwars door Vlaanderen (placing 73rd). He also rode Flèche Wallonne (9th) and Liège-Bastogne-Liège (3rd), further acclimatising to top-level Classics-style racing and proving he is more than a Grand Tour rider. Porte, on the other hand, did no cobbled races in the lead-up to the Tour, opting to train on such roads and rely on the experience of his team-mates; he did just one Europe-based one-day race, the Tour du Finistère (placing 45th) on April 14, which was more to experience riding the final 35 kilometres of Stage 5 than to be Classics fit-and-ready. (Interestingly, Bardet also rode Finistère and finished second.)

Prior to the stage to Roubaix, SBS Television cycling analyst David McKenzie said ad nauseam if Porte could get through the first nine days relatively unscathed and on par with the other favourites, then he would be a contender for the title. It was always the first part of this equation I had trouble digesting, for until he gets to that point, we don't know how far he can go.

As heartbreaking as it was to see him exit the race at the same point he left one year ago, we - and he - need to accept the reality of what happened, and that what he said in April 2017 continues to hold true: "I still feel like I've not quite proven my abilities over the three weeks."

The trick now is to prove it before it's too late.

Degenkolb's fairytale
It was fitting John Degenkolb won over the cobbles in Stage 9 of the Tour de France, as no one in the peloton has endured a rockier road over the last few years.
How the GC looks in the Roubaix wash
For all the sound and fury of the day with its multiple crashes and mechanicals, most of the big GC contenders finished the day relatively unscathed and with minimal time losses.
Zwift Cycling Central Podcast - Tour de France 2018 - Richie out, a Sunday in hell

Stage 9 of the Tour de France 2018, and like last year, Richie Porte is out of the race in an hellish day on the saddle.