AG2R Citroën leader Ben O'Connor had what he called his hardest day on the bike on Mont Ventoux but, despite losing his second place overall on stage 11 of the Tour de France, he managed to limit the damage all the same.
Dropped on the second ascent of the Ventoux with 10 kilometres to the summit, O'Connor's suffering was plain to see as he swayed and wobbled in the seemingly never-ending ascent through the trees below Chalet Reynard.
But despite being isolated on the last part of the climb, the Australian pushed himself to limit the gaps and remains in fifth overall.
"Probably the only time I when I went so deep in a Grand Tour was when I was sick in last year's Giro," O'Connor said afterwards. "But today was the hardest in-race moment I've had."
"I was obviously suffering. I think everyone could see that. But I tried to do what I could to stay within the time. So here's to better days."
O'Connor remains in fifth overall – as he said a position he never expected he could achieve prior to starting the Tour this year. With two easier stages now on the menu, his aim is to recover as best he can before racing on his European home turf in Andorra.
As for whether he preferred the Pyrenees to the Alps, O'Connor answered good humouredly, "I hope so. I think I prefer any climb over the Ventoux."
After finishing in 15th place, 5:35 down on breakaway stage winner Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), AG2R team manager Vincent Lavenu praised O'Connor's tenacity on what had clearly been a difficult day
"There was a terrible amount of suffering today in that heat and on the climb. People were really exhausted again and as far as the foot of the Ventoux the team supported Ben as best we could."
"He fought like a lion and he did a superb descent, riding in with [Alejandro] Valverde. We could have had a better result on the day. But when the riders fight so hard as they all did today, you can't really ask for more."
As Lavenu reminded reporters, this is still O'Connor's first ever Tour de France, and for all he took a classy win in the Alps at Tignes, he said that, "he's still on a learning curve. He's doing a great ride on GC and even the fight for the podium is not over yet."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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