It is in the nature of elite sport that a competitor can give everything and find that it is not enough.
Richie Porte (Team Sky) might have produced the performance of his career to win atop Old Willunga Hill for the second consecutive season, but his hopes of claiming overall victory at this seventeenth Tour Down Under were severely dented by Rohan Dennis’ tenacious ride to second place - enough for the BMC Racing rider to retain the leader’s jersey by a margin of two seconds.
It will take some performance from Porte and Team Sky to wrest the ochre tunic from Dennis’ shoulders on tomorrow’s final, flat stage in Adelaide. The Tour Down Under is traditionally decided by fine margins, none more so than in 2012 when Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) sealed overall victory on countback, but something special will be required of Team Sky if they are to unseat Dennis with the finish in sight.
Richie Porte was immediately concerned that the margin of his victory over Rohan Dennis on Old Willunga Hill was not great enough to claim the lead of the 2015 Tour Down Under. pic: Regallo
This is assuming that Porte has anything left to give. His sprint up Old Willunga Hill must have required every ounce of energy. Dennis said afterwards that any further effort on his part would have lead to death. If the statement seems melodramatic, its import is supported by television images of Porte’s post-race interview, where Dennis, visible in the background, remains slumped across his handlebars for almost the entire duration.
Porte’s expression, too, is revealing. There is no trace of jubilation on his face or in his tone. Failing to claim the overall race lead is 'a bit disapointing'. The understatement jarring. He is reminded that he won the stage in front of fanatical home support. The sledge-hammer prompt gains a slight lift in mood, but it is with a resigned, rather than beaming smile that Porte concludes the interview.
Cycling history is littered with examples of riders forced to drain the bitter cup when their efforts warranted champagne. In recent memory, Fabian Cancellara (Trek) has lost the last three editions of Milan-San Remo by the narrowest of margins. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), a frequent target of Cancellara’s ire, has himself since complained of being marked out of contention for stage wins at the Tour de France.
Dennis, by contrast, is sitting pretty, having taken the leader’s jersey with an opportunist attack on stage three. His tenacious pursuit of Porte on Old Willunga Hill ends any debate over whether he or Cadel Evans should be leading the team in the veteran’s final WorldTour engagement. The 24-year-old delivered a performance worthy of overall victory in refusing to wilt in the face of Porte’s sustained assault.
Until the finishing line is crossed tomorrow on King William Road, however, Dennis cannot consider the job done. He has given everything, but Porte could tell him that everything is not always enough; and if not his rival, then his team-mate - Evans lost the race to Gerrans last year by a solitary second.