CYCLING: Richie Porte's Giro d'Italia campaign has taken a sizeable hit after he was penalised two minutes and slipped to 12th overall for receiving assistance from a rival Australian rider.
Third-placed Porte had been looking to make up ground on Spanish overall leader Alberto Contador in the 10th stage on Tuesday, a flat 200km course from Civitanova Marche to Forli.
But the Sky rider was forced to drop behind the main pack in the final kilometres to mend a punctured tyre, losing 47 seconds to the general classification leaders.
Orica-GreenEDGE rider Simon Clarke stopped to assist Porte in changing his wheel, neither competitor realising the gesture contravened an International Cycling Union rule forbidding riders from different teams helping each other.
The ensuing two-minute penalty means Porte, who was only 22 seconds behind Contador before the stage, has dropped far down the general classification standings to 12th place where he now trails the leader by more than three minutes.
Even though several of his Sky teammates waited for him and tried to help him get back to the peloton, the 30-year-old was barely able to keep up.
"If that's not Aussie mate ship then what is?" Porte tweeted afterwards.
"Punctured and clarkey gave me his front wheel #oweyouabeer.
"Not the best of luck for me today but guess it could have been worse. Ready to fight all the way to Milan!"
Porte's team sporting director Dario Cioni said he hoped such mishaps wouldn't influence the overall outcome.
"I hope that the fate of the Giro will not hang on a mechanical problem or a fall like what happened to Contador the other day (he dislocated his shoulder last Thursday)," Cioni said.
Clarke's act of sportsmanship drew praise from fellow cyclists, including Swiss UCI rider Fabian Cancellara, who took to social media to congratulate the Australian.
Clarke himself said he hadn't thought twice about coming to Porte's aid.
"He's just another Aussie, mate," Clarke told Cycling Weekly.
"He punctured and obviously needed a hand. It was one of those split seconds where it could have cost him the Giro."
Contador, who is bidding to become the first rider to pull off the Giro/Tour de France double in the same season since the late Marco Pantani in 1998, sympathised with Porte and admitted he hadn't found the stage easy either.
"It was anything but an easy day," the 32-year-old said.
"Every day at the Giro can hold surprises.
"The other day it was my crash. Today Richie had an unfortunate puncture. It is always annoying to lose time that way although, with everything that lies ahead of us, the time lost is very small."
Italian Nicola Boem won the stage after getting into an early breakaway that reached the finish, crossing ahead of rivals and countrymen Matteo Busato, Alessandro Malaguti and Alan Marangoni.
It was the biggest victory for 25-year-old since turning professional in 2013.
Wednesday's 11th stage covers 153km from Forli to Imola.