Richie Porte’s Tour de France hopes ended on the ninth stage for the second successive year, the Australian contender withdrawing from the 2018 race after crashing and suffering a suspected fractured collarbone.
The BMC Racing rider was one of the favourites to win the Tour but crashed just 10km into the 156.5 kilometre stage from Arras on Roubaix on Sunday evening (AEST) before immediately withdrawing.
The fall was cruel on Porte, who fractured his collarbone and pelvis on the same stage in 2017, and is a boost for Team Sky’s Chris Froome as he aims to win the Tour de France for the fifth time.
Trek-Segafredo’s John Degenkolb edged a late sprint to win stage nine – his first in Tour history – but BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet still holds the yellow jersey after finishing in second.
Van Avermaet is now 43 seconds ahead of Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, and leads Froome – who crashed himself and needed help from a fan in the aftermath – by one minute and 42 seconds.
But the day’s headlines focused on Tasmanian Porte, who was in a major crash with around 15 other riders.
— CyclingCentral (@CyclingCentral) July 15, 2018
It was a surprise that the crash came before the first cobbles on the stage and the nature of the incident may mean Porte finds it hard to return to the Tour de France, according to teammate Van Avermaet.
“It was a pretty hectic day, we lost Richie after 10 kilometres. Two years in a row,” he said, according to Cycling Weekly.
“You can lose one year your GC [general classification rider] goal but now two years, at 32, it is not the best for him. It will not be easy to get back for him mentally.
“Good thing his crash was not as bad as last year.”
Porte’s teammate, Stefan Kung, said perhaps fate had intervened.
“It was stage nine last year, too. Getting Richie on the podium in Paris in BMC colours just wasn’t meant to be,” he said.
“There was nothing he could have done differently. I was on the right hand side of the road and he was in the middle of it. At this point it just happened.”
BMC Racing is reportedly set to wind up with Porte likely to be racing elsewhere next year.
BMC Racing team boss Jim Ochowicz said Porte was “okay” in the aftermath, though, and that he may turn his attention to the Vuelta a Espana – the Grand Tour of Spain – later this year.
“He seems to be okay … he will get down to Annecy tonight and probably go home tomorrow with his family,” he said.
“He’s fine and now we make a new plan. What do we do? Maybe we are looking at the Vuelta a Espana now. That is not such a bad thing. He is in good form.
“He is going to go home and heal, but again it is not a fracture that is going to keep him out from training for six weeks. He will be back on his bike in a couple of days.”
Rivals of Porte were quick to express their sorrow at the Australian’s fall.
Froome, a former teammate of Porte’s at Team Sky, said afterwards: “It’s never nice to see a mate go down like that, so thoughts go out to him today.
“I don’t know how badly injured he is, I hope it’s not serious but it’s always sad to hear that one of the main rivals is out of the race.”
The Brit also posted on Twitter.
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) July 15, 2018
Thomas, who races at Team Sky as well, added that he felt Porte was his team’s biggest threat in the race.
Further updates on Porte’s condition are expected on Monday morning (AEST).
A rest day is now on the cards for riders, before action resumes on Tuesday evening/Wednesday morning (AEST) on a 158.5km stage from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand.