Ben O'Connor may well have thought after winning at Tignes that things could not get much better on his debut Tour de France but two weeks later the AG2R Citroën pro is heading towards a hugely impressive fourth place overall as well.
O' Connor's stage win pushed him into the top spots of the overall classification, with him even holding second on GC for a few days. But despite the setbacks of the Mont Ventoux in particular, the Australian has dug deep to maintain his placing in the overall battle.
The 25-year-old was understandably emotional on the finish line of the Tour's second time trial, where he fended off Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) to finish narrowly ahead of the Dutchman on GC.
Kelderman finished 21 seconds ahead on the final TT, but O'Connor's 31st place was enough to ensure he remains on course to stay in fourth in Paris, 11 seconds clear of his rival.
As a result, the Australian will take what a breakthrough result of fourth in Paris, by far his best result of his five Grand Tours to date. His previous best performance in a GC was 20th in the 2020 Giro d'Italia where he also won a stage.
"I felt really emotional yesterday (Friday) just thinking about the Tour de France and being able to sit near the front because you've earned it," O'Connor said at the line.
O'Connor had an incident-free time trial but he described the Tour's second time trial, held in intense heat through the fields and vineyards east of Bordeaux as "super-horrible. But I'm super happy to hold fourth."
After Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) secured third overall in the Tour last year, O'Connor's fourth place is the second time an Australian has finished inside the top five in cycling's premier race in as many years.
But if Porte has been a well-established figure in stage racing for a decade, O'Connor pointed out that finishing so close to the podium was a "new step for me."
For the French team AG2R-Citroën, after years where their GC aspirations centred mainly around Romain Bardet, O'Connor's result now places the squad with a new perspective on the Tour de France.
"It's a new direction for them, too, with an Australian guy in a French team," he reflected.
O'Connor has been rumoured to be leading his team at the Vuelta a España, but his upcoming race program has yet to be confirmed.
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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