Australian Richie Porte has reacted strongly to claims that he was 'helping' former Sky team-mate Chris Froome during Sunday's Tour de France high mountain stage in the Pyrenees, and would not attack him.
BMC Racing Team's Porte was part of a small group of general classification contenders that were fighting it out in the final kilometres on the Arcalis climb in Andorra. Also present were Froome, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) and Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep).
Porte led the group for a while with Froome on his wheel in a scene that to some was reminiscent of when Porte was Froome's key mountain helper during last year's race. However, Porte left Sky for BMC in the winter and now has his own agenda.
“I know him well, I rode in the [Sky] team. But there's no favours up there. People say I didn't attack him yesterday, which is just rubbish," AFP reports that Porte said on Monday as the riders enjoyed their first rest day of the 2016 Tour.
“I guess people just don't quite understand how it is when you're on the limit - it's just not always possible to keep attacking.”
As the lead group headed towards the line on Sunday six minutes behind stage winner Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), it was Yates who set the pace in the torrential hail and rain, with Froome and Quintana following on his wheel. Porte was distanced slightly and came across the line two seconds down with Martin and Quintana's Movistar team-mate Jesus Herrada.
Porte is now 14th overall, two minutes and 10 seconds adrift of overall leader Froome. The majority of that deficit is due to an untimely puncture on stage two that saw him finish in 81st place and lose 1-45 to Froome. Remove that 1-45 from the equation, and Porte would now be sitting in fifth place overall.
“Obviously the disaster I had last Sunday is still a bit of a hard one to take, but the hardest days of the race are in front of us so hopefully I can make more time back and try to hit that podium in Paris,” said Porte.
As it stands, Froome leads the race by 16 seconds over fellow British rider Yates, with Irishman Martin in third at 19 seconds. Quintana is fourth at 23 seconds.
Porte's BMC team-mate Tejay van Garderen is two places ahead of Porte in 11th spot, 1-01 down on Froome.
Considering that two high mountain stages in the Pyrenees have been completed among the nine stages so far, the top order of the general classification is unexpectedly close.
The racing resumes on Tuesday, when the Tour de France restarts in Andorra with stage 10. The riders will finish in Revel after tackling the category one climb of Port d'Envalira and a gently descending stage profile.
There are still two individual time trials and key mountain stages in the Alps before the 2016 Tour concludes in Paris on Sunday, July 24.
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