'I've done it a lot on my commute': How Ben O'Connor prophesied his Volta a Catalunya mountain top win to the kilometre

Remarkably, the first three stages of the race have been won by a trio of different Australians

Ben O'Connor
(Image credit: Getty)

Riders doing a reconnaissance of a course or a climb is not exactly novel - especially not in Catalonia where the majority of the peloton reside - but Ben O'Connor took his pre-race preparation to another level ahead of stage three of the Volta a Catalunya.

The AG2R Citroën rider had targeted stage success on the finishing climb of La Molina, a ski station in the Spanish Pyrenees that is ideally located between the Australian's two European bases of Andorra and Girona.

While many of the peloton were no doubt familiar with the climb, few knew each bend and each gradient change as well as O'Connor, who confessed that as well as driving it "a lot", he had ridden it just as much "with my commute." 

Which, to the non-professional, is quite a show-off statement, really: who adds a mountain unnecessarily into a 200km-plus commute?

But, on with the story at hand. What is impressive is that ahead of the stage, O'Connor had predicted, pretty much exactly, how the race would unfold.

"Yeah, I mean, it's a tricky kind of finish, you have to be kind of smart," the 26-year-old told Cycling Weekly just before the race flag dropped. "If it goes early, well, then hopefully I can be there!" he smiled, knowing exactly that he would be there.

"The bottom bit is actually really hard, so it all depends on how the first climb is ridden. it will change how the 'sprint finish' at the top of the mountain is."

Just like he forecast, the bottom was hard - because that's where he attacked, 8.7km from the finishing line, bringing absolutely no one along with him except DSM's Henri Vandenabeele for a short while.

The Australian was not to be seen again by his rivals until there was fresh snow by the side of the road, and hundreds of day skiers with their skis resting on their shoulders standing by the roadside, confused as to why so many people were on bikes and not skiing the fresh (all 3cm of it; but it all counts!) spring powder.

"I wasn't expecting it," O'Connor teased after his win. "I was hoping some guys would come with me so that we could race and roll together.

"I don't know if they were scared or worried; I was left all by myself. I was really struggling at the finish, but I had a gap and I'm happy that I was able to win today and now I have the leader's jersey. I knew the climb perfectly - knew when to ease off and when to go."

O'Connor, who memorably won a mountain stage of the Tour de France last summer, has yet to ever win a GC but is in a great position to do so.

Stager four climbs to the central Pyrenean ski resort of Boí Taüll, so isolated that it's almost certain that none of the riders have ever ridden it. O'Connor's confident, though. "It's a climb up to 2,000m - it's definitely something I can do.

"It'd be a dream of mine to win a WorldTour stage race."

Just four days to go.

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