Ben O’Connor took redemption on stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia 2020, winning from the breakaway after coming cruelly close the previous day.
The NTT Pro Cycling rider it made it into the day’s breakaway again on the road from Bassano del Grappa to Madonna di Campiglio, attacking on the final climb 8km from the finish and never looking back.
How it happened
Stage 17 of the Giro d’Italia marked the return to the high mountains, with four categorised climbs scattered along the road from Bassano del Grappa to Madonna di Campiglio and 203km to deal with.
The first half of the stage was dominated by two huge ascents – first the Forcella Valbona (21.4km at 6.7 per cent), which started 40km into the stage, followed shortly after by the Monte Bondone (20.5km at 6.6 per cent) at 98km into the day.
Riders then faced a less daunting challenge at he 155km mark, the category three Passo Durone, a 10.6km-long, 5.8 per cent average gradient climb, before the final mountain rise to the finish.
That final climb, Madonna di Campiglio, was 11.9km in length, at an average gradient of 6.7 per cent , with a maximum ramp of nine per cent – not the toughest of the day but still a demanding finish after the earlier climbs.
The race exploded into life on the early slopes of the first climb, as the sprinters were dropped almost immediately and a 19-rider breakaway escaped up the road, quickly pulling the advantage out to over a minute.
With some serious stage contenders making it into the escape, including Thomas De gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Rohan Dennis (Ineos Grenadiers), Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team) and Ben O’Connor (NTT Pro Cycling), the peloton were happy to allow the break a long leash, and the gap grew out to six minutes and remained constant for most of the stage.
Back in the bunch, it was Deceuninck – Quick-Step who were happy to control the pace for their race leader João Almeida, with the GC race remaining tame throughout the first three climbs of the day.
The race then hit the foot of the final climb to Madonna di Campiglio, with the breakaway, now whittled down to 14 riders including Dennis, De Gendt and O’Connor, holding a six-minute advantage over the breakaway with 18km to the line, while the GC group comfortably stayed together.
With 10km to the summit, De Gendt was the most motivated in the break and the group gradually began to shrink, with riders still in contention.
Rohan Dennis was the first rider to put in a notable attack from the breakaway, accelerating out of the saddle to shed a few more riders, with Ben O’Connor putting in a big counter attack 8km out.
Dennis was dropped shortly after as O’Connor powered clear of the rest of the break, with only Herman Pernsteiner (Bahrain-McLaren) left to chase, around 20 seconds behind.
But O’Connor disappeared up the road to take the biggest win of his career, 31-seconds ahead of Pernsteiner and more than a minute up on De Gendt.
In the peloton, five minutes further down the road, Ineos, Trek-Segafredo and Deceuninck all made their intentions clear, positioning themselves at the front of the bunch.
Ineos were riding in unison to position Tao Geoghegan Hart, who faced a potential podium at the top of the climb.
The GC group quickly thinned under the pace, before Sunweb’s Jai Hindley attacked on a six per cent ramp and his team leader Wilco Kelderman followed almost immediately, forcing Almeida to close down the gap alone.
But the group slowed once again and came to the finish glued together.
Tao Geoghegan Hart sprinted for the line to try and take a second to move onto the podium, but Jai Hindley was alert to the threat and the GC group finished with no changes in the overall classification.
The race continues with a huge GC day on stage 18, covering 207km from Pinzolo to Laghi di Cancano, and featuring the dreaded Stelvio as the penultimate climb.
Giro d’Italia 2020, stage 17: Bassano del Grappa to Madonna di Campiglio (203km)
1. Ben O’Connor (Aus) NTT Pro Cycling, in 5-50-59
2. Herman Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-McLaren, at 31s
3. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 1-10
4. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) CCC Team, at 1-13
5. Kilian Frankiny (Sui) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-55
6. Harm Vanhoucke (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 2-49
7. Davide Villela (Ita) Movistar, at 3-29
8. Óscar Rodríguez (Esp) Astana, at same time
9. Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (Eri) NTT Pro Cycling, at 3-30
10. Jesper Hansen (Den) Cofidis, at 4-32
General classification after stage 17
1. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 71-41-18
2. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 17s
3. Jai Hindley (Aus) Sunweb), at 2-58
4. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2-59
5. Bilbao Pello (Esp) Bahrain-McLaren, at 3-12
6. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 3-20
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 3-31
8. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) NTT Pro Cycling, a 3-52
9. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 4-11
10. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 4-24