Australian Ben O’Connor has demonstrated his readiness for another big Tour de France by earning the first overall WorldTour podium spot of his burgeoning career at the Criterium du Dauphine.
The Perth racer, who finished fourth at last year’s Tour, earned third place overall in the south-east France stage race that acts as a key dress rehearsal for the world’s biggest race.
Yet while O’Connor’s performance in the week-long race was highly encouraging with the grand tour less than three weeks away, he was still no match for the race winner Primoz Roglic and the Slovenian’s Jumbo-Visma teammate, runner-up Jonas Vingegaard.
O’Connor, lying third overnight, was again the only rider to get near the Jumbo-Visma pair, finishing third on Sunday’s eighth and final stage, a mountainous 138.8km route from Saint-Alban-Leysse to Plateau de Salaison.
But he again couldn’t quite match one of the Tour favourites Roglic, and his powerful Danish right hand man Vingegaard, who powered away from the rest of the field on the final climb.
Once they’d broken their opponents, with their nearest challenger O’Connor 15 seconds adrift, the teammates had the luxury of being able to holding hands as they crossed the line.
Roglic was happy to push Vingegaard forward, allowing him to take the stage and finish second in the overall standings, while he claimed the overall victory by 40 seconds from the Dane and 1:41 ahead of AG2R Citroen’s O’Connor.
“I thought maybe I’d get back to them. I still had legs. I never exploded. It’s just that I couldn’t go with the first accelerations, but I can be super proud,” said O’Connor.
“I think we’re really not that far away from fighting with the very best in the world. And that’s something we can be proud of all together.”
Apart from Paris-Nice which he had to abandon with illness, the 26-year-old O’Connor has been superbly consistent this year, not having finished lower than seventh in any one-day race or stage-race overall classification.
Roglic, who famously just missed out at the 2020 Tour de France, losing to his compatriot Tadej Pogacar in the climax, and had to abandon last year’s race after a crash, smiled: “I finally won some races in France so it’s super nice.
“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.
“As you can see, things are going in the right direction so we can be confident. We have some more time, some more work to do and should be ready for the Tour.”
Another Australian Jack Haig, of Bahrain-Victorious, also completed an excellent race, finishing fifth overall at 3:13 down on Roglic.
But he was quick to accept that both Roglic and Vingegaard had laid down a marker as the major threats to Pogacar’s bid for a third straight Tour title.
Roglic has won the past three Spanish Vuelta titles but the Tour remains his major focus after also winning Paris-Nice in March.