The 2021 edition of Tour de France has been unusual, although we have seen stars such as Julian Alaphilippe, Mathieu Van der Poel as well as last years winner, Tadej Pogačar in yellow – a lot of the favourites including Australian contenders have missed opportunities, until today. Perth born Ben O’Connor of Team AG2R Citroën has used a miserable and rainy day in the second climbing stage of the Tour de France to win stage 9 with a decisive 5 minute lead over followers. At times he was even the virtual leader and put the current yellow jersey leader Pogačar in danger.
With a 6 minute and 02 second minute lead ahead of Pogačar in the yellow jersey, Ben O’Connor moves into second overall in the General Classification. Pogačar relied on strong team support from his UAE team mates though Team INEOS Grenadier sought some late attacks with Richard Carapaz challenging to break-away. A counter attack by Pogačar on the final climb saw him cross the finish in 6th to secure his yellow jersey in the Tour lead. This now puts Ben O’Connor into second place overall, just 2 minutes and 1 second behind where he is now the best challenger against the Slovenian cyclist. In third place at 5min 18sec follows EF Education Nippo rider Rigoberto Uran.
Other Australian cyclists have missed opportunities in the crash marred Tour de France this year with leading sprinter Caleb Ewan of Lotto Soudal forced to abandon the tour after stage three where he suffered a broken collar bone in the final sprint after he touched wheels with another rider. Jack Haig of Team Bahrain also abandoned following a crash in stage three with a broken collar bone and concussion. Richie Porte of Ineos Grenadier was also caught in mass crashes along with team mate Geraint Thomas and many of the strong GC contenders have now dropped in the rankings. Primož Roglič, who barely missed out on winning the Tour last year has also abandoned the race following injuries.
In O’Connors first Tour de France, he said “It’s been a wild ride, it’s mind-blowing.” He thanked everyone who has supported him, particularly his parents. Regarding the break away he said that it was not planned that he would be in the break and tried to stay cool. He recognised that he needs to descend better but then the opportunity opened and he had faith that he could “win a stage of the Tour de France”.
Far from a new-comer, O’Connor was 20th in the Giro d’Italia last year and won stage 17. For the 144.9km stage 9, he takes the Combativity Award. In the final kilometers he fell back on the last descent but with 20 kilometers to the finish he clawed bak to the lead break-away group which then saw Nairo Quintana of Team Arkea Samic fall back while O’Connor was able to pull away from Sergio Andres Higuita of EF Education Nippo.
photos © A.S.O. / Pauline Ballet