Ben O’Connor may have dropped down the rankings and off the final podium on the final day of the Tour de Romandie but sixth overall was still easily his best GC result at a WorldTour stage race, spurring confidence the move to AG2R Citroën is just what he needed to shift up a gear.
The Australian rider entered the final stage of the Tour de Romandie in third place, having moved up the ranks from 17th after a wet and drama-filled queen stage where he took second over the line behind Michael Woods (Israel Start–Up Nation) after Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) crashed in the final 50 metres.
Then in the final 16 kilometre time-trial O’Connor finished 52 seconds behind stage winner Rémi Cavagna, with Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Marc Soler (Movistar) all delivering quick enough times to leapfrog O’Connor on the GC, leaving him in sixth.
“For me that is good. I feel like this has been an improvement, a race where I have stepped up so I’m just really content that I was able to put a race together for the overall and I’m super pleased with the team and how they have supported me through this,” O’Connor said in an interview with Cycling Pro Net.
O’Connor, who came second in stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia last year and then won stage 17, had never before finished in the top-ten on the GC of a multi-day WorldTour race. That makes sixth at Tour de Romandie, which was ultimately won by Thomas, a significant advance. This year he also finished 12th overall at Paris-Nice in March and took fifth in the 2.1 ranked Tour du Var in February.
The 25-year-old rider, who has been a professional since 2015, moved to the French team this year from NTT Pro Cycling, after having spent four years with the South African squad. The departure from AG2R Citroën of longstanding leaders Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour have opened the way for O'Connor to fight for stage victories or the overall.
“The stars have aligned and the confidence of the new team has been really amazing,” said O’Connor. “Sometimes it is just a change of scene that really picks you up to a new point in your career and your life so all I can say is I am super stoked and I am ready for a holiday.”
After a break, O’Connor will head off to train at altitude in preparation for his Tour de France debut. The next race on his schedule is the 1.1 ranked Mercan'Tour Classic on May 24.
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