On the third Sunday of the 2016 Tour de France there are two teams with two riders each in the top 10 of GC, Movistar and BMC Racing. Last year the Movistar pair, Nairo Quintana (currently 4th overall) and Valverde (currently 5th) finished on the podium, second and third, respectively. Meanwhile the two from BMC are still vying for their first appearance on the Tour’s final podium.
Before the start of stage 15, the first battle in the Alps of the 103rd Tour, we spoke to Richie Porte and team manager, Jim Ochowicz about the approach of the Tasmanian and his American team-mate Tejay van Garderen.
Tejay is ranked sixth, 3’19” behind Chris Froome after 14 stages. And Richie is eighth after his untimely puncture in stage two and crash in stage 12… he lags 4’27” behind the current race leader.
If you’re looking out for the two BMC leaders on the climbs, you tend to see Richie at the fore and Tejay somewhat in the shadows. With this in mind, I asked Ochowicz: are we anticipating some surge from Tejay?
“You may,” he replied in a confident tone before explaining the style of the American.
“I think Tejay’s technique is a little bit different; he’s more comfortable back a bit further than he is when he’s up at the front. But yet that group that they’re in is only 10 or 20 people anyway so it’s not like he’s at the back of the full peloton.”
The years of riding tempo for Froome has served Porte well in this regard. He’s accustomed to positioning himself towards the front of the elite selection that eventually comes to the fore on the toughest climbs. But ‘Och’ is happy enough with the approach of van Garderen.
“He can see everything that’s going on and can react,” continued Ochowicz. “And his style is not to do the big sprint attempts, he’d rather grind his way up there to close the gaps.
According to Ochowicz, the pair of leaders at BMC Racing have “different styles of racing – different styles which require different positions in the peloton”.
There has been some bad luck but, all things considered, the team’s premeditated two-pronged attack is still going well, at least that’s what the manager thinks.
“Yeah, it’s working,” said Ochowicz. “We’re sixth and eighth [after 14 stages]. We’ve got a week of the Tour de France left. Today’s a hard stage and this will sort out some more of the GC and we’ll see how we end up at the end of the stage.”
Generally Richie presents as a very calm person so, I wanted to know, does he ever come onto the bus and fume? He has, after all, experienced a couple of very frustrating incidents during this year’s Tour alone.
“No, no. There’s no fuming,” Ochowicz assured me, “I think he is being reserved with his own feelings about how it affects him.
“A crash is something that you need to move on from but it doesn’t happen overnight. Like I’ve said, I think the injuries weren’t severe but there’s still injuries there that he has to recover from.
“He did a great time trial the next day – I was happy with what he did. But it still takes its toll especially with all the other things he’s got to do in the race every day.”
Perhaps the most viewed sequence of the 2016 Tour is the moment when Porte thumped into the back of a media motorbike, colliding near the finish of stage 12 on Mont Ventoux.
“I thought he hit his face actually but apparently he didn’t,” said Ochowicz on the morning of stage 15, “he got it all on his hip.
“Even if it seems like it’s not too severe, not a significant one – I mean all three got up and were able to continue on – but when you’re going 25km/h and you go to zero instantly, there’s pain involved. It’s not instant but it happens overnight or the next day or even two days later.
“He’s still feeling the whiplash.”
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When it comes to commentary on Porte, there’s often a remark about how he tends to suffer “one bad day” during a Grand Tour. I asked him before stage 15 if this was the case and if he believes that his 21st in the time trial was “that bad day” in 2016.
“I’m not sure,” said Porte. “Obviously, if you look at the guys who put a good time in, most of them are the bigger GC guys.
“For me, I had a great first part of it and then as soon as I hit the crosswinds it was like I had a sail on my bike.
“It was such a rough ride but look, let’s just see what today brings; it’s tricky with all these descents to finishes – where do you attack? And things like that. So, at the moment I’m not in an ideal position but I’m still there or thereabouts.”
He remains optimistic and reminds people that, in the final week, anything can happen.
“Maybe someone wakes up and they’re not quite 100 percent – so it’s not over, it’s still a week until Paris from here and we’ve got some very hard stages coming up.”
Porte is upbeat, healthy, relatively injury free and happy to look forward rather than back.
“The time trial was disappointing. I’d have hoped to have done better but at the end of the day I have to move on from that crash but I just hope today that there’s more barriers and a little bit more control.”
So what can expect from him in the Alps?
“Well, I’ve just got to take it as it comes. I’m really not sure. I think it’s such a hard day to predict what’s going to happen.
“I think if there’s a war out there between Sky and Movistar, then I need to profit and try and go up the road somewhere.”
– By Rob Arnold
(Photos: Yuzuru Sunada)