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Ben O’Connor: I’m still going to be exactly the same bloke after this Tour de France

Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën) during stage 18 at the Tour de France
Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën) during stage 18 at the Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Ben O’Connor’s Tour de France debut was already a success from the moment he took flight on a damp, drizzly afternoon at Tignes to win stage 9, but the Australian might draw even greater satisfaction from the way he has battled to maintain a place in the upper reaches of the general classification in the final week.

Following a sparkling display on the Col du Portet on Wednesday, a tired O’Connor was a little more laboured at Luz Ardiden on stage 18, but the fruits of his afternoon’s work were roughly similar. Indeed, with Rigoberto Uràn falling by the wayside on the Col du Tourmalet, the AG2R-Citroën rider has moved up another place to 4th overall, 8:18 behind yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).

As on the Col du Portet, O’Connor was unable to match Pogačar’s stage-defining attack with 3km remaining here, but he fought gamely the rest of the way up the climb in the company of Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe). He came home 8th on the stage, 34 seconds down on Pogačar, and he remains just over half a minute ahead of Kelderman in the overall standings.

“I didn’t feel as good as a did yesterday, but I was able to get through and to be sitting 4th is even better, it’s a good day for me and for the team,” O’Connor said atop Luz Ardiden.

“I think the last week of a Grand Tour suits me quite well. I didn’t feel super great compared to yesterday, but I was able to still get through. And me and Wilco are exactly the same, so I guess it’s a bit of a fight in the TT on Saturday and we’ll see who’s going to be fourth or fifth.”

O’Connor has shown an aptitude for the third week of Grand Tours since his debut at the 2018 Giro d’Italia, when the Subiaco native was within touching distance of a top 10 finish only to crash and break his collarbone just two days from the finish in Rome. Last October, he scored victory at Madonna di Campiglio in the final week of the Giro having placed second the previous afternoon in San Daniele del Friuli. At this Tour, too, he has managed to grind his way through the final week and hold firm when others around him have begun to wilt.

“Yeah, kind of dogged, isn’t it? Just dragging myself as far as I can up each mountain,” said O’Connor. “I know that suits me. I like this kind of racing, you’ve seen me suffering and I’m maybe not being the most special looking rider, but I’m still sitting fourth and it feels special to me.”

Wherever he finishes in Paris, O’Connor’s career will take on a new dimension after this Tour. The Australian is in the first season of a four-year contract with AG2R-Citroën, who will surely thrust further responsibility upon him on the back of these remarkable three weeks, but he deflated the idea that this would be a life-changing Tour.

“Yeah, maybe, but I’m still going to be exactly the same bloke and that won’t change,” O’Connor said. “That’s the main aspect I want to keep. Maybe be other aspects of the racing scene will change but for me as a person, I’m still Ben O’Connor and I’m not going to be turning into a bad bloke any time soon.”