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ALBERTVILLE, France (VN) — Perhaps it’s only with a touch of irony that BMC Racing will likely forfeit the yellow jersey Wednesday, the prize it came to the Tour de France to win.
Greg Van Avermaet made a brave defense Tuesday to keep the yellow tunic, but with its marquee GC rider Richie Porte out of the Tour following an unlucky crash in stage 9, BMC Racing is hitting the reset button on its Tour goals.
The post-Porte tactics are easy, at least on paper: BMC will race for stage wins, not the overall victory. [related title=”More Tour de France news” align=”right” tag=”Tour-de-France”]
Despite the bitter disappointment of losing months of work and investment, BMC general manager Jim Ochowicz said the team quickly pressed the reset button following Porte’s unexpected departure Sunday.
“If I sat around and dwelled on it, I’d be going crazy,” Ochowicz said. “It’s sport, and you’ve just got to move on. It’s like losing your quarterback in the second half of the Super Bowl. You gotta play on, you gotta regroup.”
Porte, 33, crashed out of the Tour on Sunday for the second year in a row. It’s a huge blow not only to the Australian but to the entire BMC organization. The team tapped Porte as its GC leader to challenge Chris Froome (Sky), with ambitions of reaching Paris somewhere on the final podium.
Following Porte’s victory at the Tour de Suisse, the team’s confidence was flying high. BMC brought a team stacked with classics-style riders and strong time trialists to shuttle Porte into the Alps. Everyone, including two-time top-5 Tour finisher Tejay van Garderen, put their personal ambitions on hold to help Porte. Greg Van Avermaet had freedom in the first week, but even he was committed to slot into a helper’s role.
Porte never made it.
Months of work, investment, and planning were lost when Porte was caught up in an early pileup Sunday and fractured his shoulder. Porte’s tearful exit left his teammates wondering what was left for them in this Tour.
“It’s going to be hard to keep the jersey even for one day more, so we go after stages,” Ochowicz said. “We are going into this second half of the Tour and these guys are strong. They were ready to do this for the next two weeks, so to switch mentality isn’t that hard.”
The team’s “Plan B” didn’t last much longer than Porte.
Van Garderen, who was poised to be the team’s second GC option if Porte faltered, struggled during the pavé stage. He punctured three times and crashed twice, losing 5:47 and plummeting from third overall to 30th. Still banged up from the cobbles, van Garderen struggled to keep pace Tuesday and slipped back to 44th at 10:52 back.
“It was a bad luck day,” van Garderen said of Sunday. “It’s a big hit for Richie and I for the GC, obviously. We just have to keep moving forward. This is the Tour de France. It doesn’t take long to switch your mindset.”
Those losses all but ended van Garderen’s GC ambitions, but they did open the door for a stage win.
Being distanced on GC could play into van Garderen’s favor, as he won’t be a threat for yellow and the bunch will give him some rope.
Just like in the 2017 Giro d’Italia when van Garderen’s GC ambitions sank in the mountains, he bounced back to win his first career grand tour stage in the Dolomites.
On Tuesday, the retrofitted BMC went into action. Van Avermaet rode into the day’s main breakaway as the Tour pedaled into the mountains for the first time to dramatically extend his yellow jersey lead.
Van Avermaet admitted he had “zero chance” to defend it Wednesday, but he wanted to pay homage to cycling’s most prized jersey.
“It’s been an honor to wear the yellow jersey,” Van Avermaet said. “I wanted to defend it one more day. Without Richie, we can think about winning a stage. I think I will have a few more opportunities in this Tour.”
BMC Racing came here to race for yellow. Now it can use that collective strength to take something more out of the Tour with half of the race still to go.
“We’re not just going to go home,” Ochowicz said. “We’ve already been quite successful in this Tour. We’ve had the jersey for more than a week and we won the team time trial. Now we’ll target a stage.”
In Wednesday’s three-climb stage 11 from Albertville to La Rosière, BMC put two riders into the early breakaway. Damiano Caruso and then van Garderen bridged across to form a promising move on the hors-categorie Montée de Bisanne.
“Now we will try to get into some breakaways,” Caruso said. “Now my goal is to try to make a victory in a stage. Every day can be good, so now we have to be focused and we [will] see during the race the situation.”
That’s just the aggressive style of racing BMC promises in what will be the team’s final Tour de France under the BMC Racing colors. A new partnership with Polish tycoon Dariusz Milek will see the team race in the trademark orange colors of CCC-Sprandi-Polkowice for 2019.
After seeing Porte crash out in back-to-back Tours on stage 9, Ochowicz said the team might try a new tactic in the future.
“Next year we’re only doing 8 and 10,” he said with a laugh, “and skip stage 9.”