The fairly flat Stage 10 of the 2015 Giro d’Italia was expected to be a typical transition day for those riders contesting the overall classification with a breakaway group and the sprinters hoping to be the main focus of attention. Punctures and the occasional crash often occur during these days but the riders often recover from these setbacks to re-join the peleton. However, Team Sky may regret their actions during the closing kilometres of the road into Forli as Richie Porte’s hopes of clinching the Giro victory appeared to evaporate at the roadside.
With less than six kilometres remaining of the 200km stage between Civitanova Marche and Forli, and with the peleton racing at considerable speed in their attempt to overhaul a small breakaway group, Porte suffered an untimely puncture. Such mechanical failures are never welcome at the best of time but with so little distance remaining to be covered that day, Porte’s need for a replacement wheel or bike became urgent, especially considering his third position in the overall standings just over 20 seconds behind leader Alberto Contador.
At times like this, fellow team members are usually trying to protect their main hope for victory but it was fellow Australian Simon Clarke of the Orica-GreenEdge team who provided a spare wheel for his unfortunate compatriot. Several members of Porte’s fellow Team Sky cyclists then tried to pace the Aussie back to the peleton but to no avail losing 47 seconds to Contador at the finish.
As Giro Race director, Mauro Vegni later claimed, “You can’t pass equipment to another team”, and so Porte and Clarke were fined with a further two minute penalty imposed upon the Team Sky leader who was then demoted to 12th overall at over three minutes behind the Spaniard.
There have been accusations that the penalty was unfair and that the Giro should be decided on the road and not by adjudication panels, but such objections may be serving as a distraction from the real failures of Tuesday’s stage.
For example, where were the other Team Sky riders when Porte suffered the puncture and why couldn’t another team member offer his bike to the Australian to minimize the delay encountered. That has happened on many occasions during stage races when a domestique has offered the team leader a replacement bike while awaiting the arrival of the team car. Richie Porte was considered a genuine hope for overall victory in this year’s Giro but it would appear that the Team Sky cyclists were totally unprepared for a puncture so late in the stage. They should have been immediately aware of the situation and instantly halted to help their team-mate.
That a member of another team helped Porte highlights some disorganisation within the ranks of Team Sky which may have cost the Australian any hope of victory.
There is a long individual time trial on Saturday and several difficult mountain stages to be encountered next week, but at a disadvantage of more than three minutes, Porte will need considerable luck and some poor displays from the leading riders to be considered as a potential winner when the race eventually arrives in Milan.