Richie Porte finally has the Tour de France result he deserves


In the early hours of July 24, 2011, cycling fans across Australia sat glued to their televisions, watching the penultimate stage of the Tour de France time trial. On the roads around Grenoble, Cadel Evans took two and a half minutes to race leader Andy Schleck, assuring that Evans, 34, would take yellow and become the first Australian to win the world’s biggest cycling race.

Nine years later, last Sunday morning, the feeling was about the same for the Australians who had stood to watch the 2020 Tour. Again, it was a penultimate time trial; it was another Australian who was on a podium in the Tour de France. Third on the stage, Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) went from fourth to third place overall to grab the first podium of the Grand Tour of his tumultuous and rich career.

Of course, third in the Tour de France is not the first. But for Porte and his legion of home fans, it might as well have been.

“To finally get on the podium, that’s the image I want on the wall at home – in Paris on the podium,” Porte said afterwards. “It’s so amazing to finally do it – it feels like a win to be honest.

“It’s been a long journey with the battles I’ve had and the drama along the way so I’m so happy to finally be on the Tour de France podium.

Porte’s career has long been marked by a sense of unrealized potential. At the 2010 Giro d’Italia, in his first season at WorldTour level, Porte finished seventh overall and won the best young rider jersey. It was a result that suggested that a Grand Tour victory could be in Tasmania’s future.

In the years that followed, Porte became one of the best in the world in weeklong stage races. He has won Paris-Nice twice, the Tour de Suisse, the Tour de Romandie, the Volta a Catalunya, the Volta ao Algarve and his home race, the Tour Down Under, twice. Two finalists in the Criterium du Dauphine and one in the Tour du Pays Basque only reinforce its references in stage races. But the three-week success still proved elusive.

It was partly an opportunity. At Saxo Bank-Sungard, he joined the service of Alberto Contador; at Sky, he supported Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. For all three, he turned out to be an excellent servant in the mountains. The limited opportunities he had at Grand Tours did not bear fruit.

Like in the 2014 Tour when Porte took over as Team Sky manager after the Froome crash. Porte climbed to second place in the general classification of this race before losing nearly nine minutes in stage 13. At the Giro d’Italia 2015, a puncture in stage 10 saw Porte lose almost three minutes while he was third overall – two minutes left to get behind the wheel of compatriot (but rival) Simon Clarke.

Simon Clarke helps Richie Porte after a puncture during the 10th stage of the Giro d’Italia 2015.

The following year, Porte left Sky in search of more chances to lead a Grand Tour team. He joined BMC and headed to the 2016 Tour as the absolute leader of the team. An untimely mechanic on Stage 2 saw Porte lose nearly two minutes, ending her GC tilt before it even really started. By the end of the Tour he had fought for a fifth place overall – a commendable result and a record in his Tour career up to this point. Had it not been for the time wasted in his Stage 2 mechanics, Porte would have finished second overall.

And then “The Curse of Stage 9” began.

During the 2018 Tour, a horror crash going down Mont du Chat saw Porte leaving the race in an ambulance with a fractured pelvis and collarbone. He was only 30 seconds behind the overall lead at the time. A year later, another Stage 9 crash saw Porte leaving the Tour with a broken collarbone. He was less than a minute from the top of the general classification and ahead of most contenders for the GC.

Porte made it through the 2019 Tour relatively unscathed and entered Paris in 11th place overall – a respectable result for his new Trek-Segafredo team, but not the result he hoped for. It seemed that Porte’s window had closed; that his chances of getting on the Tour de France podium were behind him.

Indeed, when Porte lined up for the start of the Tour de France 2020 – his 10th visit to the race – he did so with few expectations on his shoulders. As pre-race favorites Primoz Roglic and Egan Bernal monopolized the spotlight, Porte’s chances were barely mentioned. So when Porte lost time in the crosswinds on stage 7, it was almost expected, as the cycling public was so conditioned to Porte’s bad luck.

It would prove to be a tumultuous 24 hour period for the Australian. In an Instagram post, he described the waste of time as “bitterly disappointing” before announcing that his wife Gemma had just given birth to the couple’s second child. “It hurts more than words can express to miss the birth of your child, but thank you @treksegafredo for your support,” Porte wrote. “It will be a long and mentally difficult race now, but the biggest gift awaits after Paris.”

As the Tour progressed, the fortunes of the Gate race improved. He passed the formidable step 9 without incident – he would later call it “step 8b” on Instagram – and climbed the ranks regularly. But not without a few anxious moments.

At the 13th stage, Porte entered the top 10 for the first time. A day later, a double puncture during the break-in in Lyon threatened his position in the GC, but a bike swap from his neighbor teammate Kenny Elissonde saved the day. On the Grand Colombier of stage 15, Porte rode brilliantly, finishing third and fifth overall. And then on the 17th stage, on the brutally steep slopes of the Col de la Loze, Porte looked strong again, climbing fifth in the day and fourth overall.

The next day brought more drama. While fourth overall, Porte punctured a section of gravel after the penultimate climb of the day. A frenzied pursuit followed but Porte was finally able to join the GC favorites and maintain his position in the GC. Another crisis averted.

And so Porte’s podium chances would be summed up in the time trial on stage 20. He would need 100 seconds on Miguel Angel Lopez at the top of La Planche des Belles Files. In the end, it wasn’t particularly tight – as Tadej Pogacar upended the race and rewrote history, Porte took nearly five minutes from Lopez to comfortably climb into third.

“Two miles from the end, my DS Kim Andersen told me on the radio that I was going to make my dream come true and that it was such a sweet moment,” Porte said.

After so many setbacks for so many years, Porte had finally reached his Tour podium. It’s hard to imagine anyone blaming him for this result.

An even greater joy awaits Porte back home in Monaco: meeting his daughter Éloïse for the first time. It will be an emotional meeting, for sure, and one which will only be reinforced by the recent success of Porte au Tour.

“I came here and knew I had a mission to do,” Porte said. “Missing the birth – I have a feeling it is a bit fine to make it worth it.”

When this strange COVID-affected season comes to an end, Porte’s time with Trek-Segafredo will also end. It is not yet clear where he is heading, but rumors suggest Ineos Grenadiers where he is expected to fall back into super domestic mode for the final years of his career.

He can now do so with immense satisfaction, knowing that after so many trips and falls he has finally reached the Grand Tour podium he seemed destined to be.


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