Aussie O'Connor claims Tour stage win

·3-min read

A decade after Cadel Evans' historic triumph and 10 months since Richie Porte's podium finish, Ben O'Connor has announced himself as Australia's next Tour de France contender.

The 25-year-old stormed to an outstanding solo win in stage nine, shooting up 12 places in the overall standings to be second overall behind defending champion Tadej Pogacar at two minutes one second.

While O'Connor quickly declared Pogacar a level above him, the West Australian's shining performance in the bleak conditions on Sunday has confirmed his vast potential as an overall Grand Tour contender.

In his Tour debut, the AG2R team leader broke clear of the lead group in the last 20km of the 145km from Cluses to Tignes in the northern Alps.

He finished more than five minutes ahead of Italian Mattia Cattaneo (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and, more significantly, at one point on the road had taken the yellow jersey from Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates).

But the Slovenian star used an attack about 2km from the summit finish to tighten his grip on the yellow jersey.

Pogacar finished the stage sixth, 6:02 behind O'Connor.

After starting the Tour as a victim of one of the big crashes in stage one - he needed stitches for an arm wound - O'Connor is now the one handing out punishment.

He is the only rider within five minutes of Pogacar, with Colombian Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo) third overall at 5:18.

This is his fifth Grand Tour and he won a stage of the Giro d'Italia last year, but Sunday was the highlight of O'Connor's burgeoning career.

"It's been a wild ride. It's mind-blowing," O'Connor told reporters.

"It is what you dream of. There is so much joy. I am just loving every single moment.

"I knew on a long day like this, I can always win at the end.

"It was just about making sure I didn't panic."

O'Connor was not planning to attack - he just bridged across to the front group and went from there after starting the day in 14th spot overall.

He becomes the 14th Australian to win a Tour stage, but he was realistic about his chances in this year's race of joining the seven compatriots who have worn the yellow jersey.

"For sure I will try to stay up there, but I don't think personally I'm on the same level as Tadej. I think he's the next level above," O'Connor said.

"I never thought about the jersey today and it was really never in my hands whether I could take it or not.

"If I was lucky enough to have that chance, I'd gladly have taken it, but it was a hard two days with the rain, so I'm more than content with 'just' the stage."

O'Connor switched from Dimension Data to AG2R this year and has enjoyed a strong season.

"It's always a dream. Just to be here in the first place is already the first dream," he said.

Significantly, he finished fourth last month at the Mt Ventoux Denivele Challenge.

One of cycling's most feared climbs is a key feature of the Tour this year, with two ascents of the Giant Of Provence in stage 11.

Last year's runner-up Primoz Roglic quit the Tour in the wake of a crash earlier in the week.

An exhausted Mathieu Van Der Poel, whose six-day spell in yellow ended on Saturday, also made the same decision as he brought his Tour debut to an end to prepare his bid to win Olympic gold in the mountain biking event at Tokyo.

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