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Giro d’Italia star Ben O’Connor signs for AG2R Citröen

LAGHI DI CANCANO ITALY OCTOBER 22 Start Ben Oconnor of Australia and NTT Pro Cycling Team Team Presentation during the 103rd Giro dItalia 2020 Stage 18 a 207km stage from Pinzolo to Laghi di Cancano Parco Nazionale dello Stelvio 1945m girodiitalia Giro on October 22 2020 in Laghi di Cancano Italy Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images
Ben O'Connor (NTT Pro Cycling) won stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

AG2R La Mondiale, the French squad that will be named AG2R Citröen in 2021, have signed Ben O’Connor for next season.

The Australian, who has been in three consecutive mountain breaks in the Giro d’Italia, finish second on the stage to San Daniele del Friuli and then won a maiden Grand Tour stage the following day at Madonna di Campiglio.  He has been a rare ray of light for his current team, NTT Pro Cycling, and AG2R have recognized that by picking up the 24-year-old on a one-year deal.

"I am very excited to start with AG2R Citröen team. It will give me the chance to discover a new culture, new teammates, a different way of racing. I know very little about France, apart from a holiday in the Alps with my parents, but I know that the AG2R Citröen Team is one of the teams in the peloton with the deepest history.

"I know it's going to be very rewarding and I’ll have the opportunity to improve by riding with such experienced riders. I am also happy to continue riding a BMC," O’Connor said in a press release issued by his future team.

"With the arrival of Citroën, I know that the team has great ambitions for the future, and I am proud to be part of it. I have proven that I can win in the UCI WorldTour, now I want to improve in stage races, be more consistent and take more victories." 

O’Connor joined the WorldTour in 2017 as part of Dimension Data. In 2018 he made his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia and was sitting in 12th place until a crash took him out of the race on stage 19. He struggled to match that level in 2019 but has bounced back this autumn with a string of impressive results.

"We had been in contact with Ben O’Connor for two years," said AG2R's long-time boss Vincent Lavenu.

"His profile as a climber was of great interest to us and he really has the strengths we were looking for. He is not yet 25 years old and has already confirmed his potential with his stage victory in the Giro as well as his good overall performance. He is certainly a top reinforcement for the team."

The departure of Ben O’Connor from NTT Pro Cycling is another blow for the South African team. They are desperately hanging onto their faint hopes of finding a replacement sponsor after it was announced that NTT would leave the team at the end of the season. 

That has left team manager Doug Ryder with just a few weeks to find a backer for an already struggling team, and while there have been rumours of a last minute sponsor stepping in over the last few days Ryder has not confirmed any such news and remained unavailable when contacted by Cyclingnews.

For Lavenu’s team, the signing of O’Connor represents something of a coup. The Australian has always been earmarked as a huge talent but until this Giro he has not been able to show such a high level with this level of consistency. AG2R are in the middle of a significant restructure with many of their old guard leaving or retiring. Romain Bardet, their long-time leader, has moved to Sunweb, while Pierre Latour and Alexandre Geniez have both signed for Total Direct Énergie.

In their place, Lavenu has signed Bob Jungels from Deceuninck-QuickStep as well as Lilian Calmejane, Stan Dewulf, Marc Sarreau, Damien Touze, Michael Schär and 2016 Olympic Games road race champion Greg Van Avermaet. The shift towards a powerful Classics unit is complete but with O’Connor joining Lavenu has attempted the give the squad more balance. The team is almost full for next year but Cyclingnews understands that they might still have room for one more neo-pro rider.