Australian Richie Porte leading Tour chasers
Richie Porte can now forget about flying under the radar to win the Tour de France.
He is in full view as a threat to all and sundry on the Tour after moving into second place overall behind Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who retrieved the lead in Monday's 10th stage in the Vosges, marred by the withdrawal of Alberto Contador.
The 29-year-old Tasmanian is now expected to lead the charge against Nibali whose reclaim of the yellow jersey was thanks to an emphatic victory in the 161.5km stage from Mulhouse to the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles.
Nibali, the 2013 Giro d'Italia winner and third in the 2012 Tour, won the rain-stricken stage that included seven categorised mountains with a potent solo attack on the steep 5.9km climb to the finish.
He finished five seconds clear of a strung-out chase group that included Porte, who had led the pursuit with no help from the others and for his efforts faded to finish in seventh place at 25s.
Going into yesterday's first of two rest days of the Tour, Porte is now second overall at 2 minutes 23 seconds, while Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is third at 2m47s.
''I was the only one who responded when Nibali went, but I guess that's racing,'' Porte said later.
''I felt good today but it's not great to be towing everybody to the line.
''If Vincenzo goes I guess you have to respond. He's got enough time already so I didn't really want him to get any more.''
The exit of Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) with 90km to go, after crashing four kilometres earlier, has boosted Porte's podium hopes. But the absence of Contador - who later had x-rays showing he fractured his tibia - will change the ''dynamics'' of the Tour.
It may also change how Porte races if he wants to win overall, rather than race defensively to secure a podium finish.
''It's a shame to lose Alberto like that. I hope he's okay,'' Porte said.
''It's going to definitely change the dynamics of the race. It would have been a harder finale if Tinkoff-Saxo had he have been there.
''We'll take it day by day and I think we're in a pretty good position going into the first rest day.''
Tour followers will never know how Porte would have responded to the planned attacks from Contador, who was placed lower down on the general classification at the stage start.
Contador's offensive could have served Porte. He could have tried to follow Contador to avert being leap-frogged by him, yet still benefit from any time they took back on Nibali without expending more energy than needed to follow the Spaniard.
Before Contador left the Tour, Porte was regarded by many as a strong podium contender rather than as a possible Tour winner - although some did believe he was a dark horse.
His rise to the team leadership role at Sky after British defending champion and teammate Chris Froome's abandon on stage five.
But if Porte wants to win the Tour, he could be cutting it fine by waiting until the third week to strike in the Pyrenees and even then, the 54km stage 20 time trial on the second last day.
Nibali is in super form, but Porte's odds of overhauling him would be more achievable if he could take back some time in the two days the Tour will spend in the Alps - stage 13 on Friday and stage 14 on Saturday - that both have summit finishes.
Of course, that is notwithstanding the possibility Nibali may take the offensive himself - as he did on Monday.
If he does, Porte will have to muster the strength to go with him, or reel him in - the latter being most likely as he is not a rider with the attacking ''punch'' that Nibali has.
Porte has said he is a rider who prefers the longer climbs like those still to come in the Alps and then the Pyrenees, rather than the steeper, shorter ones like Monday's finish where Nibali revelled.
On that front, Porte knows that the terrain that awaits is far more to his liking. Suffice to say, the Tour is far from over.
Sydney Morning Herald