Australian Ben O’Connor has shown his willingness for another big Tour de France by taking the first overall World Tour podium of his nascent career at the Criterium du Dauphine.
The Perth rider, who finished fourth in the Tour last year, took third overall in the South East France stage race, which acts as an important dress rehearsal for the world’s greatest race.
But while O’Connor’s performance in the week-long race was very encouraging with the Grand Tour not even three weeks away, he was still no match for race winner Primoz Roglic and Slovenian Jumbo-Visma team-mate, runner-up Jonas Vingegaard.
O’Connor, who was third overnight, was again the only rider to come close to the Jumbo-Visma pair, finishing third in Sunday’s eighth and final stage, a 138.8km mountainous route from Saint-Alban-Leysse to Plateau de Salaison.
But again he couldn’t quite match Roglic, one of the Tour favourites, and his mighty Danish right-hand man Vingegaard, who pulled away from the rest of the field on the final climb.
Once they broke up their opponents, with their closest challenger, O’Connor, 15 seconds adrift, the teammates had the luxury of being able to hold hands as they crossed the line.
Roglic was happy to push Vingegaard forward, which allowed him to take the podium and finish second in the general classification, while claiming the overall victory by 40 seconds off the Dane and 1:41 ahead of AG2R Citroën’s O’Connor.
“Thought I might get in touch with them,” O’Connor said.
“I still had legs. I never exploded. It’s just that I couldn’t keep up with the first gears, but I can be very proud.
Aside from Paris-Nice, which O’Connor had to retire due to illness, the 26-year-old has been exceptionally consistent this year, finishing no lower than seventh overall in a one-day race or stage race.
Roglic, who famously just missed the 2020 Tour de France, lost to his compatriot Tadej Pogačar in the climax, and had to give up last year’s race after a crash, had something to smile about and said: “I finally got some won races in France so it’s super fun.”
“Jonas (who finished second in last year’s Tour) was super strong on the last climb and it’s crazy, an incredible day for our team,” he said.
“As you can see, things are moving in the right direction, so we can be sure. We have a little more time, a little more work and [we] must be ready for the Tour.”
Another Australian Jack Haig, of Bahrain-Victorious, also drove an excellent race, finishing fifth overall at 3:13 behind Roglic.
But he was quick to accept that both Roglic and Vingegaard had set a marker as the biggest threat to Pogacar’s bid for a third consecutive Tour title.
Roglic has won the past three Spanish Vuelta titles, but the Tour remains his main focus after also winning Paris-Nice in March.