Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën Team), is one of Cyclingnews' new bloggers for the 2021 Tour de France. In his latest entry, the 25-year-old Australian takes us through the aftermath of his stage victory in Tignes, which also moved him up to second place overall.
It’s the first rest day of the Tour de France. I’m up in Tignes in our hotel, and I can hear some band banging out music on the middle of the lake. It’s not great, but it’d take a lot to spoil my mood today. That’s because I won a stage of the Tour de France yesterday!
Today has been pretty calm – coffee, calls, a ride, physio stuff – but last night was special. A lot of tears were shed.
The process of trying to comprehend what you’ve done begins when you cross the line, and it starts with shock. I knew I was going to win the stage for a while, but there’s still that moment of awe, especially when you stop having to climb up this massive mountain. I was just gasping. It was madness. It took a while to regain my composure.
One of the first people I saw was our team manager, Vincent Lavenu, and it was cool how emotional he was. This means so much for a French team. He said ‘you’re a champion today, you’re THE champion today, you’re our champion’. It reminded me of Matt White’s emotion when Daryl Impey won in the Tour de France. Vincent took a leap of faith in me and to see that emotion, when someone is invested in you, is pretty special.
Behind the podium is the one moment you have to yourself. Until Benoît Cosnefroy rocks up with his huge smile and gives you a massive hug. I didn't expect to see him there, and he was just so happy, so that was a cool moment.
Our hotel was super close and you rock up and everyone else is giving you a hug. I got back to my room, picked up my phone, and it was a bit of a joke, seeing all the messages. Some of the stuff, particularly from my friends back home, was just hilarious. There were videos of people celebrating, messages from old cricket and football coaches. Apparently the Premier of WA congratulated me while he was giving the bloody Covid update on national TV. My sister was even on TV being interviewed. It’s ridiculous. When Jai Hindley was leading the Giro there was no exposure for him at all, which I thought was such a shame, but the Tour is like another world.
Around 8.30pm I headed down for dinner and grabbed a beer. Just the one, but I could have had many many more, let me tell you. Being second overall, the allowance is far less than what it would have been. If I wasn’t on GC I’d have sunk five or six for sure.
Then the champagne came out, a little chin-chin, a nice speech from Vincent, a bit of a song, and then the toast. That was the most stressful part of the whole day, trying to say some words in French. I told them how much I appreciate the teamwork, the happiness in the team, the courage, and the attitude. I knew the words, it’s just my pronunciation can be pretty bad sometimes, by they understood… I think!
After that, we all just chatted all evening, catching up, reflecting. I didn’t know how close Greg was to missing the time cut, and I had no idea Nans had abandoned until Oli mentioned it. That puts things into perspective. You get swept onto the podium and swept up in all the madness, so it was great just to have a chat and reflect on the day, with the riders and also all the staff, because this is what they work for, and it means so much to everyone.
Talking is kind of like my thinking time, so it helped to process how it really felt. It was just a happy time.
I could never have imagined this a week ago. I thought my Tour de France was done on day one. I couldn’t move my shoulder, couldn’t get out of the saddle, and I had stitches all up my arm. I felt terrible on the second day and only kept at it in a sort of blind hope.
My first objective for this Tour was to make it to Paris, so when I found out nothing was broken, there was the realization that I’m still here, I can start to heal, I’m not bombing out on day one. The time trial was nothing special but that long day on Friday was when the confidence really started to return. That was a hard stage and I felt good all day. Then we hit the Alps, and obviously things went pretty well there.
So what happens now? It’s funny, I was on the massage table last night and the soigneur said ‘enjoy it, but don’t forget the race is far from over’. That was a nice reminder. As I said, the beer count says it all.
I’m in second place and I feel I belong in the GC conversation. I was with those guys at the Dauphiné, at Romandie, and the Tour might be the Tour but they’re still the same guys.
The thing is, I already have this stage win, so I don’t think I have to worry. I’m not thinking ‘ah I have to make the podium now’. No. I’m going to ride as fast as I can and if it’s not fast enough, voila. That's liberating. If I do my best every day, I know I can be up there, but I’m not worried. I used to be a worrier, but not anymore. Bring on Ventoux.
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