Richie Porte is firmly in contention to become Australia’s second Tour de France champion after the race was turned on its head yet again.
The crash and withdrawal of title favourite Alberto Contador during a tumultuous 10th stage on Bastille Day completely changes the dynamics in this Tour of seismic shocks.
It is a major boost to Porte’s chances for his first podium finish at the Tour.
Contador’s disaster came five days after Porte’s Sky team-mate and defending champion Chris Froome was also forced out of the Tour because of crash injuries.
Froome’s departure meant Porte became the new team leader, opening the door for his unlikely title bid.
The last time an Australian was this well-placed after stage 10 was two years ago, when Cadel Evans was defending his historic title and eventually finished seventh.
But Porte is still two minutes, 23 seconds behind Italian star Vincenzo Nibali, who won stage 10 and reclaimed yellow ahead of the first rest day.
As he won the stage, Nibali put 20 seconds into Porte on the steep final climb to the finish at the ski station of La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges region.
The Italian also was marginally better than Porte at the first summit finish in stage eight.
So the early signs are that regardless of how well Porte rides in the time trial on the second-last day, Nibali might be too strong for him in the upcoming mountain stages through the Alps and Pyrenees.
But as Porte also noted after stage 10, it has become folly to predict what will happen in this drama-filled Tour.
“Obviously Vincenzo is in a great position, but we’ve seen today that things can happen out on the road,” Porte told the cyclingnews website.
“We take it day by day.
“Going into the first rest day, I am quite happy where I am … I think the race is not over yet.”
It is definitely over for Contador, who fell twice in treacherous conditions during stage 10.
The 31-year-old Spaniard suffered a leg fracture and a badly-bloodied knee.
Although he gamely tried to continue after receiving treatment from the race doctor, the two-time Tour champion lasted only another 15km.
It means that there are no former Tour champions left in the race.
Just before leaving the race Contador received a consoling hug from Australian Michael Rogers, his chief lieutenant.
Nibali overhauled lone escapee Joaquim Rodriguez in the final kilometre to win the stage by 15 seconds from Frenchman Thibaut Pinot.
With 3km left, Nibali launched his attack and no-one could respond.
Porte led the chase but he paid for that in the finish as several other riders accelerated past him.
Home favourite Tony Gallopin led the Tour for Bastille Day and it proved a one-day reign as he lost nearly five minutes.