RICHIE Porte and his colleagues remain confident he can lead Team Sky to a third straight Tour de France title despite losing another key workhorse yesterday.
The 29-year-old Launceston rider began the sixth stage in Arras as the official team leader following the previous day's withdrawal of his roommate and reigning champion Chris Froome.
And although he remained in eighth place overall 194 kilometres later in Reims, Porte had lost the services of Xabier Zandio to injury, reducing Sky's team to seven riders with the mountains looming.
Porte heaped praise on his teammates as they guided him through another tough, wet day strewn with accidents including the mass pile-up which claimed his Spanish teammate 79km from home.
``It was such a stressful day but luckily I had Bernhard Eisel and Geraint Thomas there and I could just sit on the back of them,'' he said.
``Those guys and the rest of my team were absolutely incredible. The wind and slippery roads made the going tough, but seven of us made it through and we can tick off another day.
``Xabi had already crashed a few times this race and it's a shame to lose him, but the show rolls on and it'll be a similar fight tomorrow I guess.
``It's sad to lose Chris, but it's a big opportunity for me, and I'm ready to get in there and fight.''
Eisel was unfazed about switching his allegiance from Froome to Porte.
``It's the same job for me with the same work, the same motivation, and the same preparation,'' said Eisel, whose fellow German Andre Greipel won a sprint finish.
``We're quite similar and we both like chatting a lot in the bunch. I told Richie in the first days, `Come on, no more talking now, concentrate', and then he saw me chatting to someone two minutes later and shouted, `Shut your mouth, concentrate'.
``We get along really well and I hope I can bring him safely to Paris with a good result in the bag.''
As Porte took the extra responsibility of leading the team in his stride, his boss, Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford, was among those backing him to win a Grand Tour.
``Resilience is a key part of this sport and the lads are resilient,'' Brailsford said.
``They're very, very upbeat because they believe in Richie.
``We shouldn't forget that Richie Porte is a fantastic rider and I truly believe he's going to win a Grand Tour.''
Porte finished 44th in Reims, in the same time as Greipel, to retain his overall position 1:54 behind Astana's Vincenzo Nibali.
Last night's 234km seventh stage from Epernay to Nancy was expected to again suit the sprinters while tonight's is classified as ``hilly'' before the race hits its first mountains tomorrow with a 170km leg from Gaacérardmer to Mulhouse which could give Porte an opportunity to improve his overall position.
As Froome flew back home to Monaco, Porte said he had been buoyed by the confidence his friend had shown in him.
``Despite the circumstances he was quite upbeat. Sometimes I think he's got more belief in me than I do myself.
``There's not much you can say to someone like that. It's bike racing. Sad to see him go out, but the race goes on. He wished me all the best. It's a big opp. And I know that.
``I think I'm flying under the radar which is just fine. I am in good form. I'm looking forward to hitting the mountains.''
While Porte will have to make do without Zandio, one of his primary GC rivals, Alberto Contador, also lost the services of his Tinkoff-Saxo teammate and fellow Spaniard Jesus Hernandez who was forced to abandon after a crash.
Results: Stage - 1 Andraacé Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol 4:11:39, 2 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha st, 3 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale st, 4 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Omega Pharma-Quick Step st, 5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale st, 6 Romain Feillu (Fra) Bretagne-Seche st, 7 Tom Veelers (Ned) Giant-Shimano st, 8 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Europcar st, 9 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin st, 10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM st, 44 Richie Porte (Aus) Sky.
General classification - 1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana 24:38:25, 2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana 0:00:02, 3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale 0:00:44, 4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:50, 5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory 0:01:17, 6 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol 0:01:45, 7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol st, 8 Richie Porte (Aus) Sky 0:01:54, 9 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:02:05, 10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar 0:02:11.