West Australian cyclist Ben O’Connor has taken the biggest win of his professional career, winning stage nine of the Tour de France.
- Ben O’Connor blitzed the Tour de France in stage nine, winning the mountain-top finish in the Alps
- The large margin of victory moved the West Australian into second in the general classification
- It is O’Connor’s second stage win in a grand tour, winning a stage in the Giro d’Italia in 2020
In cold and wet conditions on the 144.9km race from Cluses to Tignes in the Alps, O’Connor showed skill, determination and resiliance in a stage which was full of entertainment.
O’Connor was part of an early breakaway group of 43 riders, and proved to be the strongest on a day which featured one climb which was beyond classification, and an up-hill climb to the finish.
The stage looked to be contested between the two Colombian riders of Nairo Quintana and Mattia Cattaneo, who broke away from O’Connor on the downhill section after the fourth climb of the stage.
But the man from Fremantle, riding for the AG2R Citroen Team (ACT), then bridged the gap which was 35 seconds behind the Colombians with 32 kilometres to go.
As the trio started the final climb to the finish, Quintana dropped off before O’Connor made his stage-winning move with 17 kilometres to go.
Cattaneo could not hold on, leaving O’Connor clear to not only take the stage win but also move himself into second in the general classification.
“It’s been a wild ride. It’s mind-blowing,” O’Connor said post-race.
“It is what you dream of. There is so much joy. I am just loving every single moment.”
During his post-race interview, the West Australian said he was not supposed to go into the day’s breakaway group, but the size of it made him feel comfortable taking a gamble.
But once in the group he made his presence felt, putting pressure on the riders around him and ultimately proving the strongest.
“I knew on a long day like this, I can always win at the end,” he said.
“It was just about making sure I didn’t panic.”
He started the day outside the top-10 in the overall standings, eight minutes and 13 seconds behind yellow jersey wearer, Tadej Pogačar.
But O’Connor was able to reduce that gap down to two minutes and one second, throwing himself into the mix to finish on the podium once the race ends in Paris.
It is the second time an Australian has won a mountain-top finish at the Tour de France, the first being Simon Gerrans on stage 15 in 2008.
O’Connor’s future in professional cycling was uncertain in 2020, without a contract for this year.
After a stage in win last year’s Giro d’Italia, he earned himself a new contract with ACT.
The decision to keep O’Connor on the team was repaid when he crossed the line in Tignes.
“I’m so happy for (ACT), they’ve put so much faith in me,” O’COnnor said.
The riders now have a rest day on Monday, before the flat stage 10 from Albertville to Valence on Tuesday.