As he builds towards his own upcoming Grand Tour challenge this July, Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën) says he feels “inspired” by the victory of fellow Australian and Perth-born racer Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the Giro d’Italia.
O’Connor is currently taking part in the Critérium du Dauphiné, following a break of just over a month after winning the Tour du Jura one-day race and completing the Tour de Romandie in fifth overall.
O’Connor finished eighth in last year’s Critérium du Dauphiné, prior to his breakthrough result of fourth overall in the Tour de France, and as the 25-year-old told L’Equipe on Sunday, an overall win in a stage race, which he has yet to achieve, has become one of his big career targets.
“It’s a goal. When I think of another Australian like Richie Porte, he’s won races like Paris-Nice, the Dauphiné and the Tour of Romandie in his career,” O’Connor told L’Equipe. “That’s the kind of palmares I’d like to have. It’s maybe harder to do than get a podium on a Grand Tour.”
While Porte is the defending champion (but not present this year) at the Dauphiné, O’Connor said he also felt inspired by a much more recent example of stage racing success, Jai Hindley in the Giro d’Italia.
Like Hindley, O’Connor grew up and cut his teeth as a cyclist in Perth in West Australia and Hindley said earlier this week that he recollected how impressed as a teenager he’d been by O’Connor and his ability to hit the ground running despite a late start racing.
“It’s fantastic for Australian cycling, I think a whole generation of great riders are coming through and that can’t help but push the road side of the sport forward and upwards in Australia. Personally, I’m trying to add another brick to the building in the way Jai just did.”
As for his objectives in the Dauphiné, O’Connor says “it’s a very important race for AG2R-Citroën. It’s also my chance to prove myself before the Tour. I know I’m going to be able to count on a very strong team to support me and that’s almost new. I can tell what I did in last year’s Tour is being treated seriously and I know my teammates are going to race for me without any doubts on their part.”
As for how he will handle the upcoming Tour de France, O’Connor told L’Equipe he is aware that he will not be flying under the radar as in previous years. But he also feels that he could have perhaps done even better last July had he not had the first week crashes that initially left him on the back foot and with some time lost, too.
“When I think about what happened last year, the crashes and so on, I got back into the race even so on the toughest difficult stages,” O’Connor observed. “And I finished fourth even with those setbacks. I just need to imagine what would have happened without them."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.