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 highs and lows of the second week.
I hate Mont Ventoux.
I’ve done it three times now, all this season, and not once has it gone well. The first time was at the Tour de la Provence at the start of the year and that was my first race back after my collarbone fracture so it was never going to be great, but it definitely wasn't good. The second time was last month at the Mont Ventoux Challenge, and the less said about that the better, to be honest. Let’s just say I ran up against the Spanish mafia.
Neither, however, was as bad as my latest visit, on stage 11 of the Tour de France.
It was the heat that got to me. For sure the stage I won had its effects – I did some proper damage to myself there – but I know what it feels like to be cooked in the sun, and I was cooked in the sun. You’re not bonking, but it’s a similar sensation; your heart races to a million, you get a bit clouded, your body hits that point and starts to shut down. The abrupt change of temperature after the cold first week was always going to hit someone hard, and Ventoux hit me like a wall.
It all happened so quick. I only knew I was in trouble right before I got dropped. I was actually feeling OK for most of the climb, sitting behind [race leader Tadej] Pogačar, but then it hit me and all of a sudden I was in the red. I remember I everyone looking behind watching me whilst I was getting dropped. I think I looked OK then all of a sudden I wasn’t. There was nothing I could do.
I don’t think I’ve ever suffered like that before. I mean, I’ve suffered, but different suffering. When you’re on the attack or in the front group, it can hurt a lot, but you’re out front. When you’re out the back, normally you can just pull the plug and end the suffering. But I was second on GC. I had to keep going. I was in the middle.
I was disappointed but I’m not unhappy about it. It’s one of those things that happens. I was proud I kept on fighting, because I could have easily just pulled the parachute. Most of all, I’m just glad I don’t have to go up Mont Ventoux again anytime soon.
The yellow jersey group
It was another hot one in the Pyrenees on Sunday. My Wahoo was showing a real feel of 40 degrees at many points, and it doesn’t really get much hotter than that in the Pyrenees. People may say the stage was boring as the GC guys finished together, but people forget the context of how hot it was. They should go outside and do some of these roads on the big highways with a tailwind and no cooling – good luck. You have to be really careful with how you use your bullets in that heat.
That said, I did fire a couple myself, even if I was getting dropped a bit on the Col de Beixalis. What was the thinking there? Get a gap before I get dropped again. The guys were looking at each other and there were no teammates around, so maybe if they stopped for 20 seconds I could get 10 seconds up the road, and that all helps.
In the end, I was dropped at the top but was able to chase back on the descent, with the help of home advantage. My main feeling was pride. I was just proud to be there with the top five or six guys at the Tour de France. I remember seeing that small yellow jersey group as a kid – it would have been Contador and the Schlecks back then – and now I’m in it. You know you’re in the game then. You’re not the 11th or 12th guy who gets dropped and no one remembers; you’re there with the final few. That makes me proud. It’s something I hope I can do again and something I should be able to do again.
Pogacar is in a race of his own but the fight for the podium is big - you can see it’s big because Kelderman chased me down. Everyone’s looking at each other right now and until we’re all separated properly, it’s going to be very cagey. You just have to be smart.
It’s a different game, but we’ve only really got to play it two more times - I think Tuesday should be a breakaway day, which leaves two big mountain stages. I’m just excited. I can see the finish now. It’s two big hurdles to go, then the time trial. It feels close. I wish I could do those three days straightaway, back-to-back, and then finish and know the outcome, but I'll have to go through it all, and I guess that’s the beauty of it.
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