Team Sky’s new leader Richie Porte is up for the fight after another challenging day at the Tour de France.
After defending champion Chris Froome’s withdrawal following two crashes on Wednesday, Team Sky had further problems on the road to Reims on yesterday’s sixth stage, which was won by Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol).
Spaniard Xabier Zandio joined Froome in exiting the Tour with a suspected broken collarbone, reducing the Team Sky squad to seven and impacting on Porte’s support staff with the race less than a week old.
Porte, who finished 44th to remain eighth overall, one minute 54 seconds behind yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), said: “It was such a stressful day. It was horrible actually.
“We lost Xabi Zandio to the crash, but the rest of us kept out of trouble and we’re here to fight now.”
Team Sky are confident of Porte challenging for a place on the Tour podium by the race’s conclusion in Paris on July 27, with the organisation’s sports director Nicolas Portal adding: “The guys have thought about working for the Tour this winter and we went for a back-up leader.
“Everyone has a very definite role in the team, which can change if you have trouble like we’ve experienced so far.
“It’s up to Richie to take his chance. He’s in really good shape.
“It’s difficult to know exactly what we’re going for now. We’re going to try to get as many stage wins we can get.
“Richie is a great rider who could definitely win the Tour. Whether he does it this year ... he has the potential to do a podium this year, fingers crossed.”
Briton Geraint Thomas and Spaniard Mikel Nieve will be key lieutenants to Porte in the next two and a half weeks.
Portal has had little opportunity to speak to Froome, who has returned home to Monaco to nurse his injuries, with his left wrist the most worrying problem.
He will undergo scans to determine the full extent of the problem and could alter his season’s focus to the Vuelta a Espana, which begins in Jerez on August 23.
“It was really something awful losing Chris,” added Portal. “He’s our leader, the defending champion of the Tour as well and we know that he was incredibly motivated to win this Tour.
“There’s not a lot you can do about it. Chris hadn’t had a fall in the last three years, nothing major at least, (and then fell at) the Dauphine and then three times in the Tour.
“He’s a great friend of mine and he’s a very humble man – we’re going to miss him.”