IF at first you don’t succeed, keep riding – it paid off for an unheralded Australian in the Giro, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
WEST Australian Ben O’Connor (NTT Pro Cycling) went from tears of defeat to the joy of victory finally claiming his first Grand Tour victory on stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia.
One day after being denied the victory in stage 16 when he looked the strongest, O’Connor left no doubt of his current form with a dominating win atop the Madonna di Campiglio.
In what looked a bit of a “Groundhog Day” experience, the Australian was again part of a 19 man day-long breakaway, and again attacked the remains of the move, but this time there was no stopping the man from Subiaco.
The group were given plenty of leash by the main contenders on a tough day in the mountains. Australian Rohan Dennis (Ineos-Grenadiers) put the pressure on as the final climbs came into play, but it was O’Connor who looked the sharpest.
With eight kilometres to climb to the summit he attacked the remnants of the now splintering break and surged to an impressive win.
Austrian Herman Pernsteiner (Bahrain McLaren) finished second at 31 seconds and interestingly a teammate of Jan Tratnik, the Slovenian who beat O’Connor the previous day.Embed from Getty Images
Belgian beakaway specialist Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) beat Russian Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team) to complete the podium 1 m 10 seconds back.
It was a particularly sweet victory for O’Connor as his NTT team have lost their sponsorship for next year and he is still to sign a contract for 2021.
“Yesterday was so close and to pull it off today in the mountains that I dream of, it maybe hasn’t sunk in yet but when I crossed the line I was full gas crying so it means a lot,” O’Connor said.
The expected battle for the Maglia Rosa, the pink leaders jersey, never really eventuated, and young Portugese star Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quickstep) still clings to a 17 second lead from Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) with another West Australian Jai Hindley 2m 58 seconds back in third place.
The hesitance of the Sunweb team to fully attack was probably because the shadow of the dreaded Stelvio, the highest and toughest climb in the Giro is only 24 hours away.
It seems strange to be talking about the Giro and the Vuelta in the same breath because they are normally separated by three months but in these Covid times everything has changed.
The Tour of Spain or Vuelta a Espana has burst into action with two mountainous stages in the Basque region of the Pyrenees with probably the toughest start to a Grand Tour that I have seen.
Young Spaniard Marc Soler (Movistar) won stage 2 to grab his first Grand Tour victory with a late solo attack from a select group on another demanding day in the mountains in Navarre. Soler set a strong pace on the final climb but it was a desperate attack on the final descent that snared the victory.
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) led home a nine-man group of GC contenders to finish second, successfully defending the red leaders jersey after winning in similar fashion the day before.
With only two stages completed in this Vuelta the race for the overall win looks to be down to only a handful.
Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers), winner of last year’s Giro, looks the main danger to defending champion Roglic. The next in order of current GC are Irishman Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), Colombian Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton Scott) Spaniard Enric Mas (Movistar) and Englishman Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling).
All the other pre-race prospects have shown too many signs of cracking already. Spanish former winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finally seems to be showing signs that 40 is not the new 30. Big Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo Visma) dropping 9 minutes, French star Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) losing 25 minutes and the biggest loser being four time Tour de France champion Chris Froome now nearly half an hour behind Roglic.
Riding his last race for Ineos before heading to Israel Start-Up nation next year, Froome a two-time winner of the Vuelta, has shown that he has a long way to go before he fully recovers from his shocking accident last year.