Having suffered through seven stages of the Tour de France following a crash on stage 2 in Denmark, Ben O'Connor will leave the race on Monday's rest day, his AG2R Citroën team have announced.
The Australian suffered a muscular injury to his right glute, with the injury only worsening on Sunday's mountain stage to Châtel. O'Connor told Cyclingnews minutes before rolling out to start the day that he was hoping to battle through and judge his condition on the rest day, but the problem just got worse during the stage, he said.
"I've been fighting this glute injury for a couple of days, but it got even worse yesterday," O'Connor said in a team statement. "So, I think it was the stage to Lausanne, I tore my glute muscle, so I was pretty pedalling with one leg.
"It's been really difficult. I fought yesterday and I really wanted to see if I could get past this point of pain, but it's just way too much. You have like a knife in your arse, more or less, so it's pretty brutal and I don’t think it's going to get better by the end of the race, so I won't be making the start of stage 10."
O'Connor was dropped in the early kilometres of stage 9, eventually making it back to the peloton before riding in the gruppetto to the finish after 193km of racing. Up front, his teammate Bob Jungels took the stage win from the break, making it a bittersweet day for AG2R.
"Ben has been in pain since his crash," explained AG2R doctor Serge Niamke. "The vibrations during the cobbled stage did not help his recovery and his second crash on Saturday during the eighth stage made the pain even worse."
O'Connor said that he came into the race fully prepared to try and replicated his 2021 Tour success, which saw him win stage 9 to Tignes and finish fourth overall. That comprehensive preparation for the Tour has only made his exit more frustrating, he noted.
"I'm obviously upset. It's the Tour de France, it's the biggest race of the year. It's the race that we all aim for, it's the one that we prepared all year, and we clearly came here with big objectives.
"Although they already fell apart a few days ago it's even worse to see yourself falling apart even more and not being able to race like you hoped and you dreamed. Just because purely it's an injury and bad luck, not because you underprepared. That's the worst part – we prepared perfectly but lady luck wasn't on our side."
O'Connor will now focus on the Vuelta a España, which was already on his calendar for the late summer. Before leaving the Tour, though, he did have positive words to say about his teammates and Jungels, who came back from two injury-blighted seasons to win in Châtel.
"I was so happy for [Bob]," he said. "It was complicated for me but to see him win after so much shit going on with him, it was absolutely beautiful. It really put a massive smile on my face when I was back in the gruppetto with Oli. We were just shocked and happy. It was really cool, and I imagine that's what it was like last year when the boys heard that I won. It was nice to see it from a different perspective even if it wasn't a fun perspective from me."
Elsewhere, TotalEnergies rider Alexis Vuillermoz has also been forced out of the race after suffering from a fever and a skin infection, which will require surgery.
The Frenchman was attended to by race medics at the finish on stage 9 after suffering from heat stroke and vomiting during the stage. He was discharged from hospital following checks later in the evening and wrote on social media that he and the team would take stock of his future in the race on Monday's rest day.
174 riders remain in the Tour de France as of Monday afternoon, with Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), and Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroën) among the most high-profile exits alongside O'Connor.
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