France, July 08, 2013 – So strong during Saturday’s stage to Ax-Trois-Domaines, Richie Porte’s showing 24 hours later on the second successive day in the Pyrenees could not have been in starker contrast and gave Team Sky’s rivals reason to believe that this year’s Tour de France is far from over.
Porte started stage nine in second place in the general classification but endured a disastrous day and dropped back to 33rd overall, some 18min 30sec adrift of his teammate Chris Froome, who continues to wear the yellow jersey.
While on Saturday there were suggestions that the race might now be over, with Sky on course to take the top two places on the podium in Paris on July 21, suddenly the chasing pack appear to be right back in it, even if Froome’s nearest rival, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, sits 1min 25sec adrift.
“We tried to isolate Froome and things went well during the first two climbs of the day,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzue. “We spent the whole day trying to make Porte disappear out of sight, prevent him from coming back and stop Sky from having the possible double strategy of Porte and Froome.”
It was an excellent day all round for the Spanish outfit, with Nairo Quintana and Rui Costa also coming home in the pack alongside Valverde while Froome was left on his own.
However, Unzue believes that Froome will only go on to strengthen his lead in Wednesday’s individual time-trial from Avranches to Mont-Saint-Michel and says the podium remains Movistar’s objective, while Valverde – who has never previously finished in the top three here – remains coy as to his chances.
“We eliminated the whole Sky team, except for the leader,” said the 33-year-old. “I don’t know if we can win the Tour but we have to be happy with what we did.”
If Valverde was content with his showing, and both Cadel Evans and Alberto Contador felt equally pleased to be back in some kind of form after a difficult Saturday, Sky were left wondering what went so badly wrong for Porte.
“Yesterday was my day but today was probably the worst day I have had on a bike all season,” said Porte, who also singled out Valverde for praise. “Full credit to Valverde. He attacked so early and it takes a fair set of swingers to do that.”
Meanwhile, the Australian rider’s boss Dave Brailsford admitted his surprise at the demise of such a key rider and sought to blame a difficult day in the saddle on tiredness following his exertions on Saturday.
“We had no reason to think that Richie wouldn’t be there, so that was a bit of a surprise. I’ll have to sit down and talk to him,” he said. “It looked like yesterday took it’s toll on Richie, unless he’s not telling us something. It was unexpected and it is not often that we’ve seen Richie have a day like that. Whether it’s the heat, who knows, but he paid for his efforts yesterday. He fought for a long time but eventually you’ve got to think about the future of the race rather than just today and it was getting more and more clear that actually we were going to keep the yellow jersey, so there was no need for Richie to dig really deep.”
Brailsford – who also saw Belarusian rider Vasili Kiryienka forced to abandon the race after finishing outside the time limit – praised Sky’s rivals, in particular Movistar and Garmin, for whom Irishman Dan Martin won the stage, but suggested that having just one rider in contention in the general classification going into the first rest day was not necessarily a bad thing.
“We have one guy leading by the same amount as he was in the morning, so I don’t think much has changed for us. If anything it makes sure that you don’t start thinking about trying to protect second. Instead you can protect one rider, which might be a positive thing.”
There is no racing on Monday as the peloton make the long transfer from the Pyrenees to Brittany, where Tuesday’s 10th stage is a 197km ride from Saint-Gildas-des-Bois to Saint-Malo.