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Richie Porte could time trial himself onto the Tour de France podium


After more than 3,300km and 83 hours of racing, the Tour de France is tantalisingly close to reaching its ultimate destination in Paris.

And, although there are only two Australian riders at this year’s race, there’s a real possibility that both will be standing on a podium on the Champs Elysees.

Sprinter Caleb Ewan has admirably managed to haul himself through the high Alps and, if his legs have recovered enough, could reprise his performance from last year’s race by winning the Tour’s final sprint on the cobbles of the French capital.

However, in terms of overall honours, Ewan is the best part of six hours behind the leaders and well off the pace in the green jersey standings.

A smiling Caleb Ewan raises one finger after crossing the finish line.
Can Caleb Ewan repeat his victory on the Champs Elysees this year?(Reuters: Christian Hartmann)

Richie Porte though, is much closer to the top of the pile and is in with a genuine chance of making the overall podium for the first time.

Porte currently sits in fourth — which would already mark his best-ever finish.

If he is able to battle his way into third place, he will become just the second Australian to finish on the podium at the Tour de France.

Standing between him and a famous result is a 36.2km individual time trial from Lure to the summit of the short but sharp climb of La Planche des Belles Filles.

Is Richie Porte a good time trial rider?

Porte has a handful of professional time trial victories to his name, although none of note since the 2017 Criterium du Dauphine.

However, this is not a classic time trial.

Due to the extreme ramp up La Planche des Belles Filles to finish the stage, climbing ability will be important — and that could play in his favour.

Richie Porte on Willunga Hill
Richie Porte has great pedigree on Willunga Hill that may help him conquer La Planche des Belles Filles.(Supplied: Meaghan Coles Photography)

Thanks to his exploits at the Tour Down Under, Porte is known as the King of Willunga Hill.

Porte won the stage that ends on Old Willunga Hill every year between 2014 and 2019 — which should put him in good stead to tackle tonight’s stage.

However, La Planche des Belles Filles is almost double the length (5.9km to 3.7km) and noticeably steeper (8.5 per cent to 7 per cent) than Willunga Hill.

There is little doubt that the Tour summit is harder than its South Australian counterpart, with a brutal 20 per cent ramp in the closing stages that will have the weaker climbers zigzagging all over the road just to stay upright.

Despite that, the Tasmanian’s pedigree on climbs like that can’t hurt.

Who are Richie Porte’s closest competitors?

Two cyclists, one in a white jersey ahead of one in yellow, straining as they ride.
Slovenians Tadej Pogacar and Primoz Roglic are the ones to beat.

Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar (+59 seconds) are relatively clear of the chasing pack — and are both excellent time trialists.

Roglic won three individual time trials in grand tours last year — although the race leader was pipped (by just nine seconds) at the Slovenian national championships in June by Pogacar.

The battle for the overall lead is still likely to be between the two Slovenians but, with such a brutal ramp up to the summit of the final climb, contenders could lose minutes if they misjudge their effort and run out of gas.

So the Slovenian pair are far from out of the woods yet, meaning third-placed Miguel Angel Lopez should be a genuine target for Porte.

The Colombian showed he has good climbing legs after his impressive win in stage 17, but Porte should have his match on the flat.

There is precedent for Australians making late charges in Tour de France time trials.

Cadel Evans trailed Andy Schleck by 57 seconds heading into the 20th stage, a 42.5km time trial in Grenoble.

However, he overhauled the notoriously poor time-trialist Schleck and his brother Frank to claim a historic victory and wear the yellow jersey into Paris.

Cadel Evans holds his bicycle in front of the Arc de Triomphe after winning the Tour de France
Cadel Evans won the Tour in 2011, but he was behind heading into the penultimate stage.(REUTERS: Pascal Rossignol)

It’s not just those above Porte in the rankings that pose a threat, though.

Spaniards Mikel Landa and Enric Mas are both within touching distance of Porte, which might make things interesting.

Can Porte make up time on the final stage?

If the time gaps are still small heading into the final stage, could Porte attack his rivals and potentially win back seconds to get on the podium?

For a variety of reasons, that’s not really likely, unfortunately, which is why everything rides on the penultimate time trial stage.

Part of the reason for that is one of the many instances of cycling etiquette, such as not attacking the leader if he suffers a mechanical.

Almost every year since the Tour peloton first rolled to a halt on the Champs Elysees in 1975, the final stage has been a procession, allowing the winning team a chance to enjoy their victory after a brutal three weeks of racing.

Britain's Geraint Thomas, left, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey and Britain's Christopher Froome toast with Champagne
Champagne tends to substitute for more typical sports hydration on the final roll into Paris.(AP: Marco Bertorello)

Even when the Tour has been nail-bitingly close on the final stage, there have been no attempts to attack the leader from the man in second.

Want an example? Cadel Evans trailed Alberto Contador by 23 seconds in the 2007 edition of the race and still did not attack into Paris.

This was mostly for the other, principle reason. Practicality.

The final stage is always as flat as a pancake and relatively short — this year’s 122.5km makes it the shortest of the Tour by around 20km (with the exception of the Time Trial).

On such a course, it would take an enormous effort to create a breakaway from the peloton and then stay away on the Champs Elysees circuit, testing the tired legs of your teammates to the limit.

And it’s not just the leader’s team you’d be working against.

The sprinters teams, such as Caleb Ewan’s Lotto Soudal, would be loath to allow the race to end in anything other than a bunch sprint.

Caleb Ewan holds one hand in the air and points to the sky
Caleb Ewan will want to add to his two stage victories — and the sprinters teams will make sure the stage ends in a bunch sprint.(Pool via AP: Christophe Petit-Tesson)

Has the last stage ever been a race for overall position?

Although it has become commonplace to have a processional final stage, there have been occasions where that hasn’t happened — and it’s lead to some stunning drama.

The only time in recent years that there has been a change in leader on the final day just happened to feature the closest finish in Tour de France history.

In 1989, Greg Lemond overhauled Frenchman Laurent Fignon in a final stage time trial to win by just 8 seconds.

No Frenchman has ever come so close to winning the Tour since then, and although it might be churlish to suggest that the mental scars from that incident has meant no Tour de France director would dare end a Tour in such a way again, it probably hasn’t helped.

At the 2017 Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin won a time trial on the final stage into Milan to overhaul Nairo Quintana by 31 seconds.



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Richie Porte’s Tour de France podium punctured before fightback as Primoz Roglic tightens grip on yellow jersey


Richie Porte was forced to fight back from adversity on stage 14 of the Tour de France to keep his hopes of a podium finish alive.

The Australian was riding in the pack chasing the breakaway of Polish stage winner Michal Kwiatkowski and his Ineos teammate Richard Carapaz of Ecuador when potential disaster hit.

As the group were riding through gravel roads between green meadows, Porte suffered a front tyre puncture that saw him drop off the pack with 27 kilometres to the stage finish.

As he battled with a wheel that wouldn’t turn properly it took more than 30 seconds for the team car to reach the Australian rider and get him a new bike.

While that was happening race leaders Primoz Roglic, Tadej Pogacar and Miguel Angel Lopez pushed on, dropping the Australian to around 45 seconds behind.

Porte though was not to be denied and worked hard, riding strongly out of turns on steep descents to eventually catch back up the the group with 9 kilometres left on the stage.

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It was a tremendous recovery for the Australian from his second puncture of the race and he even managed to finish the stage in sixth place to stay in fourth place in the general classification.

Pogacar said he did not know Porte had received a puncture on the gravel.

“I didn’t know Richie Porte had a puncture,” the 21-year-old said.

Porte remains over three minutes behind leader Roglic, but crucially is only 1’39” behind stage 17 winner Lopez.

And while the Colombian rider is renowned for his skills in the mountains, only a flat stage 19 leg and a final time trial, which could see Porte pull back a lot of time, remain in the race.

That means the race for the yellow jersey is likely down to just two — the Slovenian pair of Roglic and Pogacar but with a 57 second-lead Roglic will be hard to unseat.

Roglic was adamant the time trial would sort out the final results.

“The time trial will decide all the rankings, but tomorrow is another day to be focused because it’s far from a flat stage,” Roglic said.

Pogacar loses hope and polka-dots

Richard Carapaz stands arms aloft wearing the polka-dot jersey on a Tour de France dais.
Richard Carapaz is now wearing the polka-dot jersey at the Tour de France.(Reuters: Stuart Franklin)

It was in many ways a tough day for Pogacar.

The 21-year-old began the day chasing the yellow jersey, while simultaneously leading the young rider and King of the Mountain categories — at the end of it he has only the lead in the young rider classification.

“I tried on the last climb, but it was not possible to drop my rivals,” Pogacar said.

“I’m not really close to the yellow jersey, if Primoz has a super bad day, I may stand a chance but I just hope to have a good day and secure my place on the GC.”

Teammates deliver heart-warming stage finish

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Pogacar lost the polka-dot jersey to Carapaz on the final day in the mountains as the Ecuadorian allowed long-time team rider Kwiatowski to take the stage as the two who broke away together finished together, arm-in-arm, just with Kwiatkowski’s tyre ahead.

“I’ve got some nice moments in cycling but that was a new experience,” Kwiatkowski said.

“I got goosebumps for the last, I don’t know how many kilometres, because I knew the gap was so big.”

Kwiatkowski also revealed it was Carapaz —who was caught late on stage 17 when he went out on his own searching for victory — that gave him the stage win.

“We are going to celebrate big time tonight because we all deserve it after so many stages.”

ABC



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Richie Porte climbs higher on Tour de France general classification as Miguel Angel Lopez wins epic mountain stage


Australia’s Richie Porte gritted his teeth and delivered a brave performance to finish fifth on the most difficult stage yet of this year’s Tour de France which finished at the summit of Col de la Loze.

The fifth placing on the stage moved Porte up from sixth overall to fourth in the general classification as Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez took advantage of the high altitudes so familiar to him in his native country and sprinted clear in the final kilometres to take the stage victory.

The win moved him into third position overall behind yellow jersey wearer Primoz Roglic, who was second on the stage ahead of his nearest rival and fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.

“I feel emotional because of the work done at home with my family, my wife, my son, I dedicate this victory to them,” Lopez said.

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Lopez moved to within 1:26 of Roglic, who extended his lead over Pogacar to 57 seconds after the two engaged in an epic duel to the finish line, in which Roglic seemed to break his younger countryman’s spirit.

The pair, along with Porte and Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma teammate Sepp Kuss, had already engaged in a tough battle that started during the final ascent, which included gradients of 24 per cent on the final 21 kilometre climb.

“It was again a good day for us,” Roglic said.

“Of course, I always want to win but I gained some time and I saw that others had problems. I knew I could gain time today and that’s what we did.”

Painful climb to the finish

With four kilometres to go Kuss took off when the man who had led for much of the day — Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz — came back to the small chasing pack, but he was followed by Lopez who had far more speed.

Commentators speculated at the time that it was a poor move for Kuss to leave his teammate and yellow jersey wearer but Roglic confirmed it was all part of a plan.

“Also, the others tried to chase him back and it helped me realise many guys around me were struggling.”

Australia's Richie Porte wearing white rides up a French peak, mouth open as another cyclist smiles from behind.
Richie Porte pushes through the pain as he battles Sepp Kuss to the finish line on stage 17 of the 2020 Tour de France.(Reuters: Stephane Mahe)

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Porte did well just to hang on for as long as he did, having been dropped a few metres off the back of Roglic and Pogacar as they sought to jostle for second, but on multiple occasions the Australian managed to get back on their tail.

However with two kilometres to go the Slovenians showed their class and finally dropped the dogged Australian, who eventually crossed the line with American Kuss.

Porte finished the stage in fourth overall on the general classification 3’05” behind Roglic and 1’39” behind third-placed Lopez

Fans ignore COVID-19 protocols

Masked Tour de France fans converge as leading riders make a large climb.
Tour de France fans crowd around Tadej Pogacar as he makes the final climb to the stage 17 finish.(Supplied: SBS Television)

Present for the stage was French President Emmanuel Macron, but he was far from the only one and it would be hard to imagine that Tour organisers were happy with scenes that were beamed across the world as the leaders made the final climb.

This year’s Tour set against the backdrop of the global coronavirus pandemic has seen riders frequently tested and the usual crowds sparse, but that was not the case as large numbers of cycling fans closed in on the road and leaders during the final climb.

After the stage Mr Macron told reporters: “It’s extremely important to show that we can live with the virus.”

ABC/Reuters



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Lennard Kaemna descends to victory on stage 16 of the Tour de France, Richie Porte in touch


Lennard Kaemna claimed his first Tour de France victory when he outwitted Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz to win the 16th stage, a 164-km ride from La Tour du Pin on Tuesday.

The 24-year-old German took advantage of Ecuadorian Carapaz’s momentary loss of focus at the top of the last climb of the day to go solo and finished one minute, 27 seconds ahead after charging down in the descent.

Swiss Sebastien Reichenbach took third place, 1:56 off the pace.

The main group of favourites, including Australian Richie Porte, finished 16 minutes, 48 seconds behind the stage winner as Slovenian Primoz Roglic retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

“It’s always tricky the day after the rest day to see how the legs respond,” Porte said after the stage.

“It was a day that really could have been super hard or gone the way it did.

Defending champion Egan Bernal, whose hopes of winning the race fell away when he cracked in Sunday’s 15th stage, was dropped from the main bunch in the ascent to Saint-Nizier, suffering from back pain.

Tadej Pogacar grimaces and rides in a white jersey in front of Primoz Roglic who is in a yellow jersey
The white and yellow jerseys shadowed each other all day, with Richie Porte close behind.(AP: Christophe Ena, Pool)

It was a day to forget for Ineos-Grenadiers, whose attention has shifted to stage wins after Bernal’s collapse, as Carapaz had to settle for second after two brutal attacks from the breakaway group in the decisive climb had left his rivals in the red.

But Kaemna, who narrowly missed out on a stage win last week when he lost a two-man sprint against Colombian Dani Martinez in Puy Mary, went solo just when Carapaz was recovering from his effort at the top.

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“I didn’t want it to be another two-man sprint so when I saw Carapaz struggling a bit I thought I had to go full gas,” said Kaemna, who had also lost a two-man sprint for victory at the 2017 Under-23 world championships.

“When I saw that I was gaining a few seconds it boosted my confidence and I knew I was going to win.”

Caleb Ewan finished with three of his teammates 30 minutes behind the winners, seven minutes inside the day’s time limit.

Riders who finish outside the time limit on any particular day are removed from the race.

All 22 teams were cleared to continue the race on Tuesday after all riders and staff members returned negative coronavirus tests.

Tuesday also marked the return on the race of Tour director Christian Prudhomme, who had tested positive in the previous round of testing.

Thursday’s 17th ‘Queen’ stage is a brutal mountain trek in the Alps, over 170km and ending in Meribel at the top of the Col de la Loze, 2,304 metres above sea level.

“Tomorrow is really one of the most crucial stages, so I hope to have good legs,” Porte said.

Porte sits in sixth spot overall, 2 minutes 13 seconds off the pace as he looks to improve on his fifth-place finish at the Tour in 2016.

If he makes the podium, he will be just the second Australian to do so at the Tour de France after Cadel Evans in 2011.

Reuters/ABC



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Richie Porte climbs back into Tour de France contention after missing daughter’s birth


Richie Porte has put a disappointing stage seven result behind him to climb back into contention in the first Pyrenees stage of the Tour de France — and he did so with news of the birth of his daughter fresh in his mind.

Shortly before starting the eighth stage, the first of the Pyrenean mountain stages, Porte posted a message on Instagram announcing the birth of his daughter, Eloise.

“While yesterday was bitterly disappointing on the bike my wife Gemma and I had this little bundle of joy arrive,” Porte wrote.

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“Hurts more than words can express to miss the birth of your child but thank you [to my team] Trek Segafredo for being so supportive.

He later told SBS that it had been a “weird last couple of days” and that he’d had his wife’s labour on his mind throughout the seventh stage of the race.

“Obviously I’d have loved to have been there for the birth but the Tour’s the objective at the moment,” Porte said.

“It’s going to be a long two weeks but I’m looking forward to getting home and meeting her.

“Coming into the Tour I knew that it was a possibility that I’d miss the birth.

On stage seven, Porte surrendered 1 minute 21 seconds to most of his general classification rivals on a riveting stage in which first Bora Hansgrohe and then Ineo Grenadiers put the hammer down to pressure the peloton.

However, he countered strongly on a tough stage eight, even attacking his general classification rivals on the final climb of the day up the Col de Peyresourde.

Riders cycle up a mountain in a line with a couple of people standing watching
The Tour de France has entered the high mountains.(AP: Thibault Camus)

Tough stage weeds out GC contenders

The 35-year-old was reigned in after his brief attack and made up no time on race leader Adam Yates, however he still finished in the main group of favourites, 6 minutes 40 seconds behind breakaway stage winner, Frenchman Nans Peters.

“It’s not too bad,” Porte told SBS after the stage finish.

“I didn’t have the best of legs but obviously now in the GC [general classification], I’ve got a little bit of breathing space, so it’s nice to at least do something.”

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Porte moved up seven places in the general classification to 13th after several contenders lost time.

Highly fancied home favourite Thibaut Pinot lost over 18 minutes, while compatriot and former race leader Julian Alaphilippe also struggled, falling 11 minutes behind the leaders.

Tom Dumoulin also lost time when he sacrificed his chances with a brutal acceleration at the bottom of the last climb to help set things up for team leader, Primoz Roglic.

Reigning champion Egan Bernal finished with the main group alongside Yates — who despite yo-yoing off the back managed to keep pace with the overall contenders — Roglic, Guillaume Martin, Romain Bardet and Colombian trio Nairo Quintana, Miguel Angel Lopez and Rigoberto Uran.

The former wearer of the white jersey for best young rider, Tadej Pogacar, clawed back 40 of the 81 seconds he lost on stage seven.

Teams plead with fans to wear masks

Team Movistar has released a statement pleading with fans to wear masks when lining the route of the race.

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Roadside fans during mountain stages are a key part of any Tour de France, and in this first Pyrenean stage the fans were out supporting the riders.

Despite this year’s Tour taking place amid a backdrop of rising coronavirus cases around Europe, supporters have still gathered on the side of the road.

While masks have been made mandatory at the start and finish of each stage, they have only been “encouraged” on the roadside as organisers concede they would be powerless to stop fans from going bare-faced.

“If you love the Tour, if you love the champions, wear a mask,” race director Christian Prudhomme said prior to the race start.

However, as a photo posted by Movistar on Twitter showed, not all supporters are wearing masks properly.

A man holds a camera overlooking bike riders below him on a road
Some fans wore masks lining the route, but others did not.(AP: Thibault Camus)

“It’s taken so much effort to restart the season — and we all don’t want it to end,” the statement read.

Adding to the jeopardy that teams face, organisers said that if two members test positive for COVID-19 in the space of a week, teams would be forced to abandon the campaign.

Tonight’s stage sees the peloton race 153 kilometres from Pau to Laruns, featuring two category one climbs.

It is the final stage in the Pyrenees and will be followed by the first rest day of this year’s race.



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