Ben O'Connor conquers La Molina to win stage three of the Volta a Catalunya

AG2R's Australian times his attack perfectly to take mountainous stage and race lead

Ben O'Connor
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ben O'Connor soloed to victory on La Molina to take stage three of the Volta a Catalunya, just about holding off the chasing pack in the final metres.

The AG2R Citröen rider took the race lead after his effort, the sixth win of his career, and backed up his mountain-top finish in the Tour de France last year. The win means all three stages at the Volta so far have been won by Australians.

He was followed into the final by Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates) and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa Samsic) who now sit behind him on general classification as well.

O'Connor attacked with 8.7km to go, and looked slightly in danger of being caught in the final kilometre, but held off Ayuso by six seconds.

How it happened

A hilly day was on the menu for the peloton as they rolled out of Perpignan on Wednesday, heading south back over the Pyrenees to La Molina.

Just over 20km into the stage, four riders established a gap on the peloton. They were Casper Pedersen (Team DSM), Ander Okamika (Burgos-BH), Simone Petilli (Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert), and Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel - Euskadi).

That gap grew to eight minutes as they headed up the first of three first category climbs of the day.

It was Okamika who took the maximum points on Mont-Louis, and then he repeated the feat on Collada de Toses.

Riders continued to abandon the race, including Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and Fausto Masnada (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).

As the peloton headed onto La Molina, the final climb of the day, the gap between the peloton and the break came down to 30 seconds. The race leader, Jonas Iversby Hvideberg (Team DSM) was dropped on that climb.

With just over 10km to go, Henri Vandenabeele (Team DSM) pushed off the front, possibly after hearing that Hvideberg had been dropped. He had 20 seconds at one point.

Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citröen) was the next to try and attack, with 8.7km to go. He joined Vandenabeele up the road, but they did not look like breaking free of the peloton, which was being led by Ineos Grenadiers. O'Connor dropped the Belgian and had 21 seconds on the peloton with 7km to go.

Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), the winner of Paris-Nice's final stage just over a week ago, was dropped by the peloton. Mattias Skjelmose Jensen (Trek-Segafredo) was the next to attack, followed by multiple others as riders flew out of the peloton, including Harm Vanhoucke (Lotto-Soudal).

Juan Ayuso (UAE Team Emirates), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) were all visible towards the front of the bunch. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) was yet another rider to jump off the front.

Entering the final kilometre, O'Connor had 20 seconds. Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) was the next to attack, but was soon caught. Heading into the final uphill stretch, O'Connor looked like he might be caught by the onrushing bunch but held on to take a famous victory in the Pyrenees.

With that, the Australian moved into the race lead, while Okamika claimed the mountains jersey, and Ayuso is now in front in the young rider's competition.

Another mountainous stage awaits the riders on Thursday, in a race that is finely poised, with just 25 seconds separating the top 20.

Results

Volta a Catalunya 2022, stage three: Perpignan to La Molina (161.1km)

1. Ben O'Connor (Aus) AG2R Citröen, in 4-12-51
2. Juan Ayuso (Esp) UAE Team Emirates, at 6s
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa Samsic
4. Sergio Higuita (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates
6. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain-Victorious
7. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
8. Tobias Halland Johannessen (Nor) Uno-X
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, all at same time
10. Damien Howson (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco, at 10s

General classification after stage three

1. Ben O'Connor (Aus) AG2R Citröen, in 12-44-20
2. Juan Ayuso (Esp) UAE Team Emirates, at 10s
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa Samsic, at 12s
4. Sergio Higuita (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 16s
5. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
6. Tobias Halland Johannessen (Nor) Uno-X
7. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain-Victorious
8. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis
9. João Almeida (Por) UAE Team Emirates, all at same time
10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 19s 

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