Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën Team), is one of Cyclingnews' new bloggers for the 2021 Tour de France. In his latest and final entry, the 25-year-old Australian reflects from Paris as his fourth-place finish begins to sink in.
It’s the day after the Tour de France and I’m still in Paris. In fact, I’m here until Wednesday. A lot of people fly out straight away, and I can understand why, but I need a bit more time to take it all in, to feel that Paris feeling.
You’ve done this whole journey through France and you’ve finally come to the end point, and now you get to enjoy it.
Plus, I love Paris. It’s such a great place to be. It feels like you’re in the heart of creativity, fashion, and cool. My fiancée is here, my parents are here, and my best mate is here, so there’ll be walks, there’ll be wine, and there’ll be meals outside in the evening sun. Just to feel normal again is amazing. Things have been so full-on not just since the start of the Tour but the start of the year, so to free your mind of all those little restraints is quite a joyous moment.
I arrived in the French capital with the rest of the peloton on Sunday evening, and what struck me was how special the Tour de France really is. You come into town and then all of a sudden you turn left and you’re riding past the Louvre. That little detour is such a good idea – it feels so so so good. Then you catch the Arc de Triomphe and you appreciate the grandeur of it all.
Once I’d crossed the line, I knew where my fiancée and parents would be so I saw them and had some photos, which was quite emotional. My old man was pretty funny, as you would be if your son was in the Tour de France and you’re together in Paris, in the sunset. It’s just ridiculous, unbelievable. It puts the hairs up on your skin. Sunsets often do this, and good light always makes me feel emotional. It was just a perfect combination.
I rolled down to the bus, had a shower, and gave everyone a hug. I’m sure it feels similar for everyone but it’s something extra when I know I’ve finished fourth overall, which I think the team would have never expected of me. We had some champagne with the CEOs of Citroën and AG2R, a couple of speeches, then everyone was outside the bus having drinks and a chat.
We only went for dinner at like 10 and that was actually a great moment as I sat with Cadel Evans. I didn’t know he was going to be there but he works for BMC and was in town with them, which was a nice surprise. It was 10 years since he won the Tour de France, so it was a bit of a celebration for him as well. What was also cool was that he was talking about Michael Schär and Greg Van Avermaet, guys who he trusted 10 years ago and are now working with me.
We had a long old chat and it was quite humbling, to be honest. I think I came to understand the mental fortitude that’s required of a GC guy at the Tour de France. It’s not easy and not always fun. I can see why a lot of people struggle when they get to that point. It would have been easy for me to pull the plug, especially on Ventoux. More than any race I’ve done before, you need to apply yourself. I think I have a newfound respect for Cadel for that. People used to say he was a bit of a strange cat, but he’s Cadel, and I think that was required for the job he had to do. It kind of makes sense. Everyone goes about it in a different way, and that’s how he did things.
We also spoke about resilience. After my crash on the first day, my objective was just to reach Paris. It’s funny how things can change so quickly. That theme of never giving up is one of the values I’ll take out of this Tour de France – for cycling and even just life in general.
Cadel didn’t join us for the after-party but we had a good one. After a few drinks, you tend to speak French a bit better, and the French guys also realise they can speak better English than they think. We didn’t get there until 1 or 2 in the morning, and when we left the sky was growing blue - then you know you’re in for a long next day.
I’m not that hungover – just tired mainly. I’ve had a lie-in, grabbed some lunch with breakfast and have just been cruising around. I’m not sure I’ve had time yet to fully comprehend what I’ve done. It’s only when you start to compare yourself with what other people have done that you think ‘oh shit, it’s actually pretty rare’. Other riders’ perceptions of me will probably change now.
All the interest from everyone in Australia is starting to filter through as well. It’s weird because I’ve kind of missed most of the media that’s been directed my way. I just got an email to do a chat show with Adam Gilchrist, who was a childhood hero of mine. Maybe it’s stuff like that that makes you begin to realise how much it means. But it’s also the happiness it brings people. My fiancée’s mum, for example - what an absolute weapon. She stayed up to watch every single stage, and that’s like 2 in the morning, every day. Then you realise it means a lot.
What the future holds
What comes next? I’ve got a couple of days to enjoy Paris then I’ve got around five weeks off before the Deutschland Tour and a build-up to Il Lombardia. I definitely need a break. I’ve done 58 race days already this year and it feels like I’ve been switched on, full gas for so long. Ironically enough, I’m going home only for a day, then we’re doing a bit of a road trip going back to France, to Auvergne and the Jura. One of the pleasures of pro bike racing is the places, and I like the idea of actually visiting the places you race through. It’ll also be nice to ride a bike for the sake of riding a bike.
That means no Olympics for me. I had a call from Cycling Australia when Jack Haig was ruled out but I declined. For me, it was all about getting to Paris, and I think I’d be destroyed just getting to Tokyo. To be honest, it doesn’t seem the same event as normal – not what I remember from Sydney or Beijing anyway.
To be here in Paris with friends and family, having a nice glass of wine and reflecting on some good times, seems better than sitting on a plane or in a hotel room you can’t leave. It's just my own opinion, but it’s not what I want to experience right now. I think what I’m doing now is a better way to reflect on all the good things that have happened at this Tour de France, this year in general, and to think about what the future might hold.
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