By Jonny Long
Today felt like a Giro d’Italia stage. Miserable rain, riders all over the place, and Ben O’Connor up the road.
It had more than shades of October 2020, when the Australian finished a pain-staking second on stage 16 before claiming his maiden Grand Tour stage the very next day.
Fast forward nine months, and after a new contract looked uncertain with NTT Pro Cycling scrambling for sponsors, he's returned the faith put in him by Ag2r Citroën when they snapped him up and secured a vital win for the French team at their home race.
At the start of stage nine, O'Connor told Cycling Weekly he definitely wouldn't make the top five in the overall come Paris barring a miracle, before questioning whether it would be worth throwing caution to the wind to try for a stage win and risking a potential GC top 10.
In the end, after making the breakaway (which had not been the plan on the bus) he gritted his teeth and perservered as he is prone to do, dropping the likes of Michael Woods and Nairo Quintana as he climbed through persistent, cold rain up to the cloudy summit of Tignes to cross the line first.
"I actually wasn’t meant to be in the break but there was a big group and I just crossed to it, I was waiting, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know whether to play it cool," O'Connor said after the stage, reliving his day. "I heard we had five minutes, a great opportunity to gain time on the GC but I also knew I had the opportunity to win on a hard day like today. It was a mad day, the conditions were atrocious.
"On the top of the Cormet de Roselend I couldn’t feel anything in my hands, I descended like a sloth, that wasn’t a good moment. With guys like Nairo and Mike [Woods] going for the KOM it was super hard to just hold the wheel.
"Maybe these long days in the mountain I just grind on and keep going, that’s what suits me. Like at the Giro last year. I wouldn’t say I love it but it works well for me."
What he does love is the winning feeling at the Tour de France. Wary that Tadej Pogačar would erupt once more from behind, or that he'd get overexcited in the final few kilometres, he kept calm as the realisation dawned he was about to take the win all riders chase their whole career.
"I was actually scared that Tadej was going to explode from behind and chase me when the road got hard," O'Connor admits. "It was just about making sure I didn’t panic because as soon as you start thinking you're going to win a stage of the Tour de France, it can make your lungs and heart stop, it definitely made mine stop.
"For sure it’s life-changing for me, it’s a dream, a far-fetched dream when you come from Australia to even think about getting to the Tour de France. To be able to say you’ve won a stage here is madness. It’s a testament to everyone who’s put their faith in me, in particular the last two years."
O'Connor is now Pogačar's closest rival, 2-01 behind the Slovenian, and will now try to defend his position in the overall despite being wary of what the other GC riders will be able to do in the Pyrenees in the final week.
"There are guys stronger than me that’s for sure, especially when we get to the big climbs later in the week. But I'm going to enjoy it as much as now as possible," O'Connor explained.
"I will try my best to stay up there. I don’t think personally that I'm at the same level as Tadej, he’s at the next level above. I wasn’t too sure about racing aggressively but then I decided to and it brings rewards. Maybe it will bite me back later but I enjoy that I can now stand here with the best guys and try my best. My heart is happy and light."
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races. I'm 6'0", 26 years old, have a strong hairline and have an adequate amount of savings for someone my age. I'm very single at the minute so if you know anyone, hit me up.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab, reporting about students evacuating their bowels on nightclub dancefloors and consecrating their love on lecture hall floors. I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
Simon Geschke forced out of Olympic road race after Covid positive
The Spanish squad also has a coronavirus case in the team bubble but will be allowed to race
By Alex Ballinger •
Tokyo 2020 Olympic road race and time trial courses
Men will tackle the slopes of Mount Fuji in the road race and the time trials will provide a lumpy parcours
By Michelle Arthurs-Brennan •
'It’s been a nice run, but it’s time': Richie Porte says 2021 edition was his final Tour de France
The Australian leads his national team into the Olympic Games road race on Saturday
By Richard Windsor •
Mark Cavendish beats Tim Merlier to sprint victory in post-Tour de France crit
The British sprinter was on the podium again in the lucrative exhibition race in Flanders
By Alex Ballinger •
From Dulwich Park to Paris: The story of Fred Wright's debut Tour de France
The 22-year-old Brit, 'a child of the Herne Hill community', was the youngest rider in this year's race
By Jonny Long •
Health issues could force Dave Brailsford to step down as Ineos Grenadiers boss
The 57-year-old has been treated for cancer and heart issues over the past couple of years
By Jonny Long •
How much prize money did Tadej Pogačar get for winning the Tour de France?
There was around €2.3 million up for grabs in this year's race
By Tim Bonville-Ginn •
Mark Cavendish rues leaving Mørkøv's wheel on Champs-Élysées, but will he ride another Tour de France?
Cavendish remains on 34 wins but is all smiles as he wins green jersey in incredible comeback
By Jonny Long •
Tour de France 2021 team ratings: how did each team perform?
We rate the performances of each of the teams in the 108th editon of the Tour de France
By Stephen Puddicombe •
'I came for more than this': Mads Pedersen's Tour de France marred by injuries but sees green jersey on the horizon
The 2019 world champion wasn't able to build on his impressive form in last year's Tour
By Chris Marshall-Bell •