PARIS, France (VN) — Was there a more valuable rider to his team in this entire Tour de France than Sky’s Richie Porte?
Chris Froome would say there wasn’t, certainly. Porte’s strength was on display for all to see across France this July, as he shepherded his captain Froome through the mountains and hauled back flurries of attacks from Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and others in the Alps as teams began to, as Froome deftly said, get “desperate.”
Of particular note was Porte’s performance on the Col de Manse, the infamous mountain that effectively ended Joseba Beloki’s career in a terrifying high-side crash, and vaulted Lance Armstrong even further into the stars, as he rode through a field.
It was this mountain that summed up Porte’s performance at the 100th Tour de France. He was dropped more than once as riders sparked off the front, attacking Froome, but clawed himself back, after shutting down what Froome estimated at 10 attacks. Porte was in the proximity of his leader on the descent, on which Contador crashed in a right-hander, sending Froome scurrying to the side of the road. Porte was there, and drug Froome back up to the lead general classification pack, which included the now second-placed Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and others.
On another stage in the Pyrenees, Porte and his teammates laid the groundwork for Froome’s win, which felt inevitable after the ride up Ax-3-Domains. Porte took monster pulls, and fell off as Froome rode away. He hung back and was careful to not do any work for Froome’s rivals, but inevitably dropped them all, and rode to second on the stage. He cracked the next day and Froome was alone, but the damage was done.
Up Alpe d’Huez, Porte took a feed from the car late and delivered it to his leader, never straying from the yellow jersey.
In short, he’s as responsible for Froome’s win as anyone, and clearly could have ridden a remarkable GC mission had that been his role. It wasn’t, but it’s got many wondering if and when the Aussie will get his crack at a grand tour. That’s been rumored to be next year’s Giro d’Italia, but that race is so far away it’s hard to know it will all shake out. If he gets a chance to ride for the win in a grand tour, he will have earned it.
“You can’t credit Richie anymore,” said Sky’s performance director, Rod Ellingworth. “His commitment to Chris is absolutely fantastic, considering that he, I’m sure, could podium here himself.”
Froome said much of the same thing.
“He’s the second-best GC rider in this race, just that he had to set aside his ambitions and that cost him in the overall,” Froome said in a press conference at Alpe d’Huez. “With his [overall] win in Paris-Nice and several other times this year, he showed that he’s one of the best riders. If he had a chance to ride [the Tour for himself], he would be on the podium.”
But could Porte win the Tour someday?
“Possibly. You couldn’t say no, could you? I’d argue with anybody who said no,” Ellingworth said.
This marks the second year running that Sky has had the best domestique in the race. Last year it was Froome, which finished second in Paris on GC, and this year it’s Porte. The British super-team has become something of a GC factory. How’s it happening, exactly? It’s been well documented that the team takes a hard look at every system in involved in racing — equipment, nutrition, and training in particular — but Ellingworth also noted how much specific time the riders spend together at training camps, bypassing a traditional race-into-form mentality.
“They’re training well, and the group ambience… I think we’re building together through the season, and training camps together, I think you get that commitment to each other,” Ellingworth said. “I think it was so obvious that Chris had the legs on everybody … when you see somebody’s got the legs, and somebody who’s been winning like Chris has, it’s quite easy.
“Richie’s racing well with the team, and he knows he’s part of this team. He gets his opportunities as well. I’d love to see Richie get his opportunities. And I actually think Richie and Chris work well together,” Ellingworth said.
Froome may be able to repay the favors one day. He certainly knows he owes them.
“Richie’s a really great guy; he put all of his ambitions aside in this race to keep the jersey on my shoulders,” Froome said.
For now, Porte’s own shoulders will have to wait for a special jersey of their own. Pink, perhaps?