Richie Porte is set to have an X-ray and MRI to assess the extent of his injuries after crashing out of Paris-Nice with 29km of the opening stage remaining. Having risen gingerly from the ground following the incident, in which Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-PremierTech) also went down, the Australian was attended by the race doctor.
The Ineos Grenadiers team leader remounted in an attempt to continue to the stage finish in Saint-Cyr-L’École, but quickly decided his injury was too bad to allow him to continue. Both Swift and Vlasov would finish stage 1 with the main field, Swift in 26th and Vlasov in 48th.
The setback came on his first day of racing for his new Ineos Grenadiers team. “It’s exciting to be here with a new team and also good to be with a really young bunch of guys. It’s nice to be back in this set-up,” the Australian had told Cyclingnews just before the first stage got under way in Saint-Cyr-L’École.
During his warm-down following the stage, teammate Ben Swift said in an Ineos Grenadiers Twitter video that the scene had been “pretty chaotic” at the time of the incident.
“It was really, really chaotic from early out. It was next to impossible to move up. Every time you’d pull up a little bit, there’d be like a mini crash, you’d lose position,” Ben Swift said about the situation on the road.
“So we were just waiting for the climb to move up. And then as we started to go, someone drops a bottle, George Bennett hit it, turned left into Richie, and then it jut took Richie’s front wheel out. I was right beside it. I didn’t know if he’d get back up or not. We were just waiting, waiting for iinformation, and they said he was out. It was pretty chaotic.”
Porte spent four seasons with what was previously Team Sky before leaving to become team leader at BMC Racing initially and, more recently, Trek-Segafredo.
Following his career-best third place finish in last September’s Tour de France and his 2020 season-ending 16th place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Porte spent most of the intervening time back home in Tasmania. He had a short interlude at the four-day Santos Festival of Cycling in Adelaide, where he raced in Garmin Australia colours and won atop Willunga Hill for the seventh time.
“I’ve been back in Tasmania riding my bike and just enjoying it to be honest. This race is a good way start back, but I’m 36 now and probably my prime is behind me,” said Porte. “I’m not sure exactly where I am, but I am sure that I’ll find out very soon.”
Twice the winner of Paris-Nice when he was racing in Sky colours, in 2013 and 2015, Porte also highlighted the specific demands of this event.
“It’s a hard race, probably one of the more mentally gruelling races of the year,” he explained. “It tends to have a bit of everything, but as it stands now there’s not so much wind so that means there’ll be a little bit less stress. It’s cold, but at least it’s dry.”
The Australian was in the field last year when Paris-Nice ended one day prematurely as a result of the sudden spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Returning 12 months later, he believes there are reasons to be optimistic about the prospects for racing.
“The fact that we’re here and not having the discussion of whether the race is going to reach Nice, or issues around that is a positive sign,” he said.
“If you look at the UK, the vaccine is really doing its thing there, so it’s looking more optimistic. Let’s hope that 2021 can be a little more straightforward from that point of view.”