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O'Connor and Paret-Peintre shine on Critérium du Dauphiné at La Plagne

Criterium du Dauphine 2021 73rd Edition 7th stage Saint Martin le Vinoux La Plagne 1711 km 05062021 Ben OConnor AUS AG2R Citroen Team Geraint Thomas GBR Ineos Grenadiers David Gaudu FRA Groupama FDJ photo Dario BelingheriBettiniPhoto2021
Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) among the leaders on the summit finish of La Plagne (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

At the end of the Critérium du Dauphiné's sixth stage at the top of a relatively short and very punchy ascent into Le-Sappey-en-Chartreuse, AG2R Citroën duo Ben O'Connor and Aurélien Paret-Peintre were a little disconsolate after both were tailed off in the explosive finish.

"I think the heat got to me," said O'Connor. "I'm hoping I'll go better on the longer climbs to La Plagne. They should suit me more."

Buoyed on Saturday morning by confirmation of a three-year extension of his contract with the French team, who have signed the Australian up until the end of 2024, O'Connor's prediction that the bigger mountains of stage 7 would suit him more was confirmed.

After being in the thick of the ding-dong action that lit up the second half of the 17km climb, he finished fifth at La Plagne and jumped five places on GC to eighth. Better still, fellow 25-year-old Paret-Peintre also nudged his way into the top 10.

"It's nice to back it up from Romandie," said O'Connor, who finished sixth in the Swiss stage race last month. "I know the big climbs really suit me, I guess it's that high-threshold thing. I just like that kind of racing.

"I exploded a little bit just before the finish, in the last kilometre. I was pretty cooked when [Enric] Mas was following and [Miguel Ángel] López went. But everyone was super tired. No one really got a gap at the end. The last day of the Dauphiné is chaos, so we just have to be ready for that."

Reminded about the news of his contract extension that had been announced that morning, O'Connor smiled and said, "I'm sure Vincent's happy," referring to AG2R team boss Vincent Lavenu.

"I'm happy. It's just a shame that I struggled in the last kilometre, but everyone was on the limit today. The break took a long, long, long time to go. I felt like we were racing all day. So I'm really happy with how it went after a bad day yesterday."

Turning his focus to the final stage into Les Gets, O'Connor explained he was expecting a hectic day of racing.

"Anything can happen on the Dauphiné's last day. Dani Martínez won last year in a crazy day, so you have to be ready to fight, but also be really smart because there'll be lots of attacks.

"I'm in the top 10 and I want to keep it like that. Whether I finish seventh or fifth or 10th, I'll be happy. It's just a consistent roll that I've never had before. This may be the first time I can consistently put races together so it doesn't matter what place in the top 10 I finish."

Paret-Peintre, who like O'Connor is hoping to cement a place in AG2R's team for the Tour de France, said he was pleased with the way the stage had gone.

"In truth, I was a bit disappointed on Friday because I finished behind the split from the front group and lost a bit of time, but I think today we've bounced back from that very well, as Ben has done really well too.

"The two youngsters have done a good job today. It's really satisfying for us," said the Frenchman.

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).