Australian climbers Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) were among the most active riders in the tough final of the closing Critérium du Dauphiné stage to Les Gets on Sunday, the duo both attacking at various points as they looked to improve their top 10 overall positions.
In the end, after Haig had attacked towards the top of the Col de la Joux Plane, and after O'Connor had attacked on the final rise to the finish, it was the latter who saw his move stick, gaining 13 seconds on a select GC group at the line.
Despite the time gain, however, O'Connor ended his race in eighth overall, while Haig came in with race winner and compatriot Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) to secure fifth place.
Both men were happy with their efforts during the week, with Haig doubly pleased that teammate Mark Padun had secured his team's third stage win of the race – though he did say that he had hoped for a more typically chaotic ending to the Dauphiné.
"It's obviously amazing for Mark Padun today [and] I'm quite happy. I had all the team there looking after me super well," Haig said. "When you have teams here like Ineos, Movistar and Astana, a lot of the controlling is done, and you just need to follow the wheels and it's about the legs.
"I was kind of hoping for some more chaos to be honest. I was hoping that Astana and Movistar would do a little bit more attacking to reduce Ineos. I ended up attacking after Miguel Ángel López at 1.7 to two kilometres to go [from the top of Joux Plane] and Ineos still had Tao Geoghegan Hart there to ride tempo."
Haig was solo over the top of the HC-rated climb and was joined on the attack partway down the descent by second-placed man Alexey Lutsenko and his Astana teammate Ion Izagirre.
What looked like a threatening move ended up neutralised by the chase group, leaving a wide-open final ramp to Les Gets which saw all bar one rider – O'Connor – roll in together after a series of attacks and counters.
"I think [Astana] probably tried everything they could," Haig said. They tried on the downhill, they tried one-twoing on the 5km to go section on the false flat there. I think there were too many cards to play there in the group. They managed to put them under pressure, but they didn't crack them."
The 27-year-old, testing his GC credentials for the first time this year – having joined Bahrain after five years at Mitchelton-Scott – said that he'll be hoping for a top 10 placing at the Tour de France next month. Above all though, it's about continuing the consistency which has seen him take seventh at the Tour de la Provence and Paris-Nice, and now fifth at the Dauphiné.
"Obviously top 5 would be incredible," he said, after a journalist suggested the placing to him. "But I think if I go there, to be honest, I want to be consistent for three weeks and prove that I can do that. If I have the legs that I have now, I think that consistency can bring a top 10 and then anything above that is a bonus."
O'Connor: I'm happy and loving racing
While Haig – 34 seconds down – had at one point looked a threat for the podium or even race lead, O'Connor came into the final stage a minute back having shed 23 seconds on the tricky stage 6 finish.
AG2R's new for 2021 GC leader went solo in the final kilometres of the Dauphiné in an attempt to replicate his fifth and sixth places at the Tour du Var and Tour de Romandie. He fell short, but was still positive about the day, and the race as a whole.
"I think I'm just having fun," he said shortly after the finish. "I'm happy and loving racing. I guess it's easy to say that when you get to race with the top guys at the front and I think you just have to make the most of it because unless you're a superstar you can't be like this every single race, so why not try while you can?
"You can see that everyone is kind of on a similar level because as soon as you jump you kind of get pulled back in, so you have to play a bit of a waiting game and be quite smart."
In contrast to Haig's hopes for chaos, O'Connor said he imagined the stage would be as controlled as it turned out to be, though maybe a little more "ridiculous" on Joux Plane. That set the stage for his late, opportunistic attack, he said.
"I thought it was going to be pretty controlled. The climbs were really fast. I didn't think they were going to be silly.
"I though Joux Plane might be a bit more ridiculous, but we were just going really fast up there. You saw some of the attacks, and they just come back. I think it's a better idea to wait. I tried here in the finale because I knew guys were looking at each other then, and I guess it worked out."
A celebratory beer is on the cards for the 25-year-old and then O'Connor will be racing the Mont Ventoux Dénivéle Challenge on Tuesday.
Should he go to the Tour, and the prospect is surely all but certain at this point, it will be his final warm-up for a Tour debut. There, he'd face up to the likes of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, who weren't at the Dauphiné, but whose absence made the race possibly more interesting, he said.
"I guess that maybe it's not having Primož or Tadej here, when they are what feels like another level above, but everyone is very similar, and we get to the same point in the race, and everyone feels exactly the same. I guess it's kind of fun. It might look a little bit boring, but for us it feels like you always have a chance."
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