Richie Porte won atop Willunga Hill yesterday to take the queen stage of the Tour Down Under for fifth consecutive year. However, the victory was bittersweet one after it was announced that he failed to take the overall race lead from Daryl Impey. If Porte would have succeeded in taking just one more second (or merely a fraction of one) out of Impey, he would have taken the leader’s jersey from the South African. Instead, the two riders are currently tied on time going into the race’s final stage. With the two riders tied, Impey and Porte’s placings on the previous stages were each added together to break the tie. Impey’s consistently better placings gave him the overall lead ahead of Porte.
Impey finishing a mere eight seconds behind a climbing specialist such as Porte was a massive surprise to viewers. Porte also seemed to completely surprised by Impey’s ability to hold on to his searing attacks on the slopes of Willunga. The Tasmanian took the time sit up and celebrate his victory before he crossed the line, which most likely cost him the precious second that he needed to take the overall race lead.
In the screenshot below, you can see Porte with his hands off the bars, celebrating his win well before he is over the finish line. Free-wheeling the final few meters as opposed to sprinting through the line, like the chasing Impey did, significantly slows dulls a riders’ momentum and contributes to an overall loss of speed.
You can see the flashing figure of Impey sprinting down the finish straight a mere three seconds later. The coverage cuts away immediately after, but Impey’s frantic pace at this point in the race is astonishing compared to Porte’s relaxed, celebratory finish. Porte seemed to think the victory was all but sealed and acted as though he was participating in his own coronation. The reality was that he was just about to be ambushed by his nearly vanquished enemy.
Porte’s lax pace in the final few meters is understandable considering the way he dismantled his competition on the exact same climb twelve months earlier. At the 2017 edition of the race, Porte’s trademark Willunga Accelerations™ burned off the entire field, leaving him a massive 20-second cushion at the finish line. The stiff headwind at this year’s race, along with the long recovery from the dramatic crash that took Porte out of the 2017 Tour de France, possibly blunted the power that let him asphyxiate the field in 2017.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Porte put celebrating a Willunga victory ahead of a general classification victory. In 2016, after dropping GC leader Rohan Dennis in the final kilometer of the stage, Porte took a hands off of his handlebars to celebrate instead of sprinting through the line. He would go on to lose overall victory to Dennis by two seconds.
While not as egregious as his 2018 flub, this seemingly innocuous decision now looks like the reinforcement of a fatal habit. While Porte often appears to be a rider undone by bad luck, the blame for this year’s likely loss-by-tie at the Tour Down Under can be placed squarely on the Tasmanian’s own shoulders.