Ben O'Connor's stage win on stage 17 of the Giro d'Italia on Wednesday really couldn't have come at a better time. His NTT Pro Cycling squad is searching for a new main sponsor for 2021, and his solo victory on the climb of the Madonna di Campiglio should go some way to showcasing just what the Australian and his team are capable of.
"For sure, it's a good way of getting some personal attention, but for now we're just going to have to wait and see," O'Connor said in the post-stage press conference, with NTT having announced at the end of September that it wouldn't be continuing its sponsorship of the team into next year.
"I think the point of racing is to try to win bike races. That's why sponsors also join a team – so that you can show yourself to the media, and victories are what you strive for as an athlete, and as a team is what you should do as a professional team," he said, "so for sure I hope it is a really positive saving grace and can go far in helping us find a future – not only for us as riders but also for the staff as everyone at this team deserves a career and a future.
"I think our team really needed this win," O'Connor later added in a team press release. "I really needed this win, as did my family and friends, who put a lot of faith in me."
The 24-year-old nevertheless won a stage of the Etoile de Bessèges at Le Mont Bouquet back in February, but came close to a stage win at the Giro as recently as stage 16 on Tuesday, when he finished second to Bahrain McLaren's Jan Tratnik.
"I think I cried as it was a sense of overwhelming relief because the amount of effort and work that not just I put in, but everyone around you does," O'Connor said of his emotional victory the day after he'd come so close. "Just from yesterday there was so much support that it would have been a shame not to try again.
"I'm quite emotional as a person and it just means a lot because of everything this year, I guess it's been an incredibly tough year for a lot of people and when you have such joy what else can you do but cry?
"You know the team situation – everyone does – and it's not good," he said of the sponsor situation. "But it's racing like we are now that gives hope to the team and to everyone, as it's proof that we can do it."
Team principal Doug Ryder added: "What an amazing stage for Ben, and a brilliant stage for our team. This is something that we've worked so hard for as a team.
"For this race, [just] as we went into the Tour de France with expectations to win stages and ride fairly high in the general classification, the team showed that even though it's struggling times to find a new title partner, there is complete unity and that everybody's committed to each other," he said.
"Today, having three riders in the breakaway [O'Connor, Louis Meintjes and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier] all supporting each other, and then with Ben clearly the strongest after finishing second yesterday and feeling so disappointed in himself, and then getting up again today and doing what he did, shows his character.
"It showed how committed every single one of these individuals is to try to make a result and support the team that's supported them over the years. It's just a beautiful story," Ryder said. "I'm just so happy for Ben, and of course for the team."
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