Porte’s gripping pursuit saves his Tour

Richie Porte avoids disaster after enduring a flat tire on the 2020 Tour de France final mountain with a courageous chase and saves his fourth place overall.

It was a puncture at the worst possible moment, and Richie Porte had no choice but to ride it. A front flat combined with the gravel road made it nearly impossible to control the bike, but Porte pushed on, waiting, hoping, praying to see the white and red Toyota Corolla, the Trek-Segafredo team car, appear soon.

Then a treacherous corner – improbable to steer the bike through, but somehow Porte managed. There was still hope and a fall now would finish it. It seemed like forever but was probably less than a kilometer.

Finally, the Corolla appeared. A quick bike swap, a push, and Richie was off. Ahead of him was the biggest pursuit, maybe not of his career, but certainly of this year’s Tour.

“We crested the top, and we started the gravel section, and I don’t know how far we were back from Richie, but he must have had the puncture about a third of the way through the gravel sector,” explained mechanic Aaron Fairley. “He said on the radio he had a puncture, so Kim (Andersen, director) immediately tried to get as close as possible so we could do the bike change. It was full gas on the horn, and we had to tell the jury we needed to come through, too. We got through to him. He changed the bike, and he was about 20-25 seconds back at that point. In any moment like that, it’s a stressful moment of course.”

“I couldn’t believe it!” said Porte when asked what went through his head at that moment. “After doing such a hard climb and then to have that bad luck at the top…not ideal! As soon as I told Kim, he told me to keep riding. So that’s what I had to do. I knew it was going to be quicker to take a bike than a wheel. I am not sure how long I was riding on the puncture, but I do remember there was one corner that I had to take that was a little dicey, and I was happy to keep it upright.”

Porte led the chase on the descent. The gap remained steady but with over 25 kilometers to go and the five-kilometer Col des Fleuries climb to come, the situation looked bleak. Ahead the Bahrain-Merida team smelled blood.  On paper, Mikel Landa had already moved ahead of Porte into fourth place.

“In the chase, I was as calm as could be. From the car, Kim was giving me time checks and keeping me calm. I figured that the two Jumbo riders, it was in their interest to come back to Roglic too,” Porte pointed out.

Jumbo-Visma teammates Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert began to help in the chase. The gap, which had swelled to 40 seconds, now began to melt away.  At the bottom of the Col des Fleuries, they had the GC contenders in view.  Van Aert gave one last pull, sat up, and Porte did the rest. At 10 kilometers to go, Porte – with a little help from some friends – had saved his GC.

“You do appreciate having guys like Tom (Dumoulin) and Wout (van Aert) there. I know it’s a team sport and all, but it’s nice when some of your competitors lend a hand to get you back. I really appreciated it – it’s nice to have friends in the bunch. I would do the same for them, I guess, if I ever can,” he said.

It's almost as if it would have been too easy to not have any drama.

They say there’s never a dull moment in the Tour. The steep part of the final big climb of the race was done but not dusted (literally), and a late puncture on the gravel road at the top of Plateau de Glières threw an added level of stress and heart-pumping thrills into Stage 18. Thankfully, cool heads prevailed –  and Porte got in a little extra time trial practice ahead of the race of truth Saturday.

“I am happy that as a team we kept it cool and calm and a fast bike change. It was a hard chase back, and I didn’t really think I was going to make it. But the team has been awesome around me all week, and it’s the least I could do,” added Porte.

“It was not ideal, and I was feeling really good on the [Plateau de Glières], which was a hard climb. It’s almost as if it would have been too easy to not have any drama. It was a good day to get done, and I think I already did my time trial it was so hard to come back,” he smiled. “To survive that and maintain my GC… I am happy to have come away with that one. Now we just have to get through tomorrow.”