Ben O’Connor’s podium dream is over for now

The West Australian might well be back in stage-hunting mode.

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The first week of the Tour de France was always going to be critical for Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citröen). If he was going to match, or perhaps improve on, his fourth overall from last year’s Tour, he’d need to get through the first third of the race unscathed, before riding his heart out in the mountains.

Sadly for the 26-year-old West Australian, the first six days of the 2022 Tour have been anything but plain sailing. He’s now seven minutes adrift from race leader Tadej Pogačar and his goal of reaching the podium in Paris is effectively over.

“I’m not really sure what to say,” a dejected O’Connor said after crossing the line on stage 6. “I could cry. I’m really disappointed today.”


O’Connor’s Tour started in sub-optimal fashion, dropping almost a minute to Pogačar in the 13.2 km stage 1 time trial around Copenhagen. And then on stage 2, he was caught up in a crash with 2.3 km to go.

“I’m OK, he said afterwards. “I just did a front flip and couldn’t avoid the crash to be honest. But that’s how it goes. It’s a bit shit but it doesn’t take anything out of me.”

With the crash happening inside 3 km to go, O’Connor didn’t lose any time. And with only some bruising to show for his fall, O’Connor seemed to have escaped relatively unharmed. But that crash would come back to bite him.

Stages 3 and 4 were less eventful, with O’Connor finishing on bunch time. But then came the dreaded cobbles of stage 5. A puncture on the second of 11 pavé sectors left O’Connor chasing desperately to save his GC ambitions, but an overabundance of race motos hindered that chase, forcing O’Connor another three minutes down the GC by day’s end; now more than four minutes behind Pogačar.

After the initial sadness had worn off that evening, O’Connor was able to see a glimmer of hope in a bad situation: he’d been in a worse position last year – 4:48 behind Pogačar after stage 5 – and still managed fourth overall.

But then, on Thursday’s stage 6, O’Connor took yet another hit. In the hectic finale, the man from Perth was dropped and haemorrhaged another two and a half minutes to stage winner Pogačar. O’Connor’s seemingly innocuous crash on stage 2 was taking its toll.

“I’m still suffering from this crash, it’s not like anything’s changed out there,” he said at day’s end, on the verge of tears.

With Pogačar now in yellow for the first time this Tour, O’Connor sits in 52nd place, 7:02 in arrears. Any hopes of a GC podium appear to have evaporated. But the Tour is far from over, and other opportunities lie ahead.

Step one for O’Connor will be recovering fully from his stage 2 crash. Perhaps that means taking a conservative approach on Friday’s first mountain test of the Tour, to La Planche des Belles Filles, prioritising recovery above all else.

A fully recovered O’Connor will have a bevy of mountain stages to target in the second and third week. And as he showed at the Tour last year, and at the Giro in 2020, O’Connor is more than capable of winning a Grand Tour mountain stage from the breakaway.

Switching from the GC fight to targeting stage wins is not how O’Connor drew up his 2022 Tour. But it’s there that his best opportunity of success at this year’s race now lies.

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