Team’s big picture requires individual sacrifice

Tour de France diary, day 19

Stage 17 time trial, Embrun to Chorges, 32km

It’s not easy to race a Tour de France time trial conservatively when the discipline is one of your strengths.

I realised that while racing Wednesday’s stage 17 mountain time trial from Embrun to Chorges, in which I had to save my energy in readiness to help race leader Chris Froome in the Alpine stages ahead.

It is nice to play the team card, especially on Team Sky, where the motivation is so high to get ‘Froomey’ through these last crucial days in the mountains still in the yellow leader’s jersey and then to Paris on Sunday, where he can take that one step further up on the podium than he did last year, when he was runner-up.

I have no doubt I will need every bit of strength and energy too, if Alberto Contador’s (Saxo-Tinkoff) aggressive ride on stage 16 to Gap was any indication.

But as I raced over Wednesday’s time trial course that included two second-category climbs and some tricky descents, I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I did have a crack. I saw guys who could climb and time trial getting good results.

Still, I stuck to the plan and by the day’s end I was still feeling strong for what is to come and, more importantly, Froomey was still in yellow after his third stage win.

One of the good things from this different approach to racing a time trial is that is gave me an opportunity to take in the crowds.

There are some characters out there, especially among the Australian fans, the British fans and the most passionate of them all, the Basque fans.

There was one standout moment: nearing the top of the second climb, the Cote de Reallon, 20km into the 32km stage.

I was being booed by a fan with a French accent when I suddenly heard the unmistakable sound of an Aussie accent yelling out: “Oi”.

The next thing I saw was this Aussie grabbing the heckler in what I could only think was in support of me.

It was a shame to hear someone booing me. It’s never nice. I don’t know why this guy was booing me. I understand it if fans like one team over another, or even if they just don’t like a team, but even then booing is not really called for in sport – or anywhere. If you don’t like a team, just don’t cheer for them.

But in this instance, it made my day to think that someone from Australia who had come all the way here to watch the race would come out and defend me.

If I ever get to meet that guy I’d like to thank him and let him it know it meant a lot to me, as do the many cheers we get along the road.

If you are wondering, we do hear and appreciate those cheers in the peloton, and every rider in every team gets a huge lift from them.

Bike fans are diehard, and it never ceases to amaze me how many still come to a bike race – especially when the weather is wet, cold and windy.

And from what we hear, that is what the conditions may be like in these next three brutal days in the Alps before we race into Paris and the finish on Sunday.

After being blessed with so much good weather this year, such a forecast will be a huge shift. It is always easier to race with blue skies overhead.

I’m not sure how true the forecast will be or what impact it will have. All you can really say to yourself is that the weather will be the same for everyone racing.

Read Richie Porte’s exclusive daily Tour de France diary throughout the race in Fairfax Media.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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