In a day of carnage Richie Porte crashed out of the Tour de France shattering his shoulder and Pelvis along with the hopes of a nation.
As the riders approached the summit of the final climb to Mont du Chat, there was no time for small talk and it was becoming apparent that Porte was the only rider with the firepower to match leader Chris Froome.
But then all hell broke loose. The descent was super dangerous and Porte’s back wheel washed out on a corner and as he tried to correct it he lost control and dived into the gravel on the left which sent him crashing down and sliding across the road into the path of Irishman Dan Martin who had one of the most spectacular falls I’ve ever seen. Porte was out for the count but Martin managed to remount, crash again and still finish only 1m 15 sec behind the leaders.
Stage winner Rigoberto Uran was also caught up in the crash and although he didn’t hit the bitumen his rear hanger on his frame was bent which meant he couldn’t change gear. At the bottom of the descent Uran called to the Mavic service car (because his team car was stuck behind the carnage). He said lock it in the 11, the smallest cog on the back which meant he was stuck in the biggest gear. To go on and win, even if it was almost a dead-heat, was very impressive.
I believe this incident was totally avoidable and ASO should have a rethink about stages like this. I was talking to Orica Sports Director Matt White before the start and we both agreed that it was going to be day of carnage and that at least a couple of the leading contenders would crash out on this stage.
Many thought that this would be one of the defining stages of the Tour but all for the wrong reasons. If they had finished this stage on the top of Mont du Chat they would have had an unforgettable stage for all the right reasons.
When you have a crazy descent and then more than 10 km of flat roads, you are rarely going to get the GC riders putting it all on the line.
One rider who escaped a bit of scrutiny was Italian Fabio Aru. When Froome had a mechanical incident on the final climb and raised his hand, Aru attacked. What was he thinking!!. C’mon now that’s just not on. Richie and the other contenders covered his move but refused to work with him and he then ceased the attack. Froome soon got back but when questioned about this after the stage Aru said he hadn’t realized that Froome was in trouble. Well that’s just bull….
The real plus on this day of disasters from an Australian perspective was the gutsy ride of Michael Matthews. To get in the breakaway and battle over five mountains to take out the intermediate sprint was very impressive and he grabbed back a vital 20 points. But he still has a long way to go as he is 52 points behind the powerful German Marcel Kittel. But there seems to be a bit of sparkle back in the Bling.
In Friday’s stage to Nuits St George Michael Matthews, or Bling as he is affectionately known in the peloton, showed he is still a major contender when he finished a close third behind Marcel Kittell and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by Thursday’s effort where he got roughed up by Arnaud Demare and seemed to back out of the contest looking a bit gun shy. But Friday showed that given a bit of clear air, Matthews is just as quick as anyone.
And that seems to be the major concern. Matthews has the physiology to match it with the fastest sprinters but he has never been comfortable in rough and tumble of the hectic bunch gallops. He has the guts to put himself into that amazingly hostile environment but it really is another world in there and he seems to back off when riders close the gap instead of barging through as Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke would have done. But the minute the road rises a bit and it gets tougher, Matthews seems to shine and although that’s partly to do with his strength, it is also the fact that the leading bunch spreads out and it’s not as dangerous.
I can remember that I just loved the big bunch finishes. The adrenalin is pumping and it is just madness but I would have a smile on my face as I rubbed shoulders with the opposition in the argy-bargy of those final 200 metres. I don’t believe Michael sees it that way.
What Michael did on stage 9 he is capable of repeating in stages such as 14, 15 and 17 where there is a lot of climbing but they are the type of stages that would have suited Sagan and now that he’s gone, well the next best fast man who can tough it out in the medium mountains is Matthews.
But as his Aussie Sports Director Luke Roberts said a few days back – To win this competition Michael will have to be more competitive in the flat sprint stages. At least Friday showed that he is in the mix and his Sunweb team showed that they are prepared to back him all the way.