ALPE D’HUEZ, France (VN) — Richie Porte saved the Tour de France’s overall lead again for Sky teammate Chris Froome on Thursday. Porte shepherded Froome up the legendary l’Alpe d’Huez, where Froome bonked and lost contact with two of his GC rivals.
After the finish of the Tour’s 18th stage, light rain moved in, but Porte remained to talk to the press, while many of his counterparts ducked away into nearby hotels.
“Chris hunger flatted, but we still took time,” said Porte.
In the final six kilometers of the l’Alpe d’Huez’s second ascent — after officials closed feeding from the team cars — Froome lifted his right hand for help. He needed sugar and he needed it quickly to avoid cracking.
Porte dropped back, took gels from the team car and gave them to his suffering leader. They both received a 20-second time penalty and 200 Swiss-Franc fine for the late race feed, but it was worth it. If Froome had gone into a deficit, he could have lost minutes to Nairo Quintana (Movistar) instead of the 1:06 he did cede to the Colombian.
Froome regained his composure and followed Porte’s wheel to the finish line. They put time on second overall Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff).
“I was low on sugars and Richie saved me,” Froome explained of his domestique deluxe. “Richie’s a really great guy; he put all of his ambitions aside in this race to keep the jersey on my shoulders.”
After Thursday’s queen stage, Contador sits second, trailing Froome in the overall by 5:11. The other GC rivals are bunched around five minutes as well, including Quintana, who vaulted into third, at 5:32.
It wasn’t the first time the Tasmanian ace has helped Froome.
Porte delivered Froome to overall wins in the Critérium International, Tour de Romandie, and Critérium du Dauphiné this year. In doing so, he placed eighth in Romandie and second overall at Critérium International and the Dauphiné.
“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. “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.”
Porte lost time when under fire at the beginning of stage 9 to Bagnères de Bigorre in the race’s second mountain stage. A day earlier, he helped Froome to a stage win and yellow at Ax 3 Domaines, and did the same a week later at Mont Ventoux. On Tuesday, en route to Gap, Porte closed down several attacks over the final climb and helped Froome chase back after a near crash on the final descent to the finish.
And today, adding more story to a legendary climb, Porte sacrificed himself.
“Obviously I had a good day,” Porte said, the rain continuing. “Chris went a bit hunger flat, but we were happy to take a bit more time out of Alberto.”
Porte needs two more good days and he’ll have paced the 2013 Tour champ through the Alps, gaining time along the way.