Ben O’Connor: Finishing on Vuelta a España podium is the dream scenario

Recovered from his Tour injuries and COVID-19, Australian wants to go on the attack and complete grand tour stage win trilogy in Spain.

Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

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UTRECHT, The Netherlands (VN) – “You can’t always get what you want,” Ben O’Connor said.

Rolling Stones, eat your heart out. AG2R-Citröen’s leader was reflecting on his recent, rotten Tour de France. He quit midrace with a torn glute when he had ambitions for the top three.

However, the Vuelta a España is another race and another opportunity to achieve his grand tour goals. “It would be a dream to finish on the podium, that’d be super, super cool,” he told the press in his pre-Vuelta conference Thursday.

“It was nice doing it at the Dauphiné, that was already a big achievement. The next thing, for sure, is to try and do it at a grand tour.”

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With past stage victories at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, O’Connor also wants to complete his grand tour trilogy in Spain: “If a stage win happens, I’ll also be super proud. If one of those two [stage win or GC podium] can pass, I’d be extremely happy.”

“But just being able to race a grand tour at the front with guys like Primož, [Enric] Mas and Yatesy would already make me proud.” O’Connor further name-checked his friend and fellow Perth man Hindley as a favorite, alongside Yates and Roglič.

The climber was chatty and cheerful, happy to not hedge his bets pre-race like some contenders prefer. “I haven’t said ‘we’ll see’ because that’s a banned word in my vocab,” O’Connor said, smiling.

Thoughts on a tough Tour

O’Connor is in a much happier place than he was a month ago. He went into the Tour de France as an outside podium bet after consistent top-ten finishes in stage races and third place in the Critérium du Dauphiné.

However, a couple of crashes and significant time loss on the cobbled stage put him out of contention, then a torn glute led to his abandon after stage 10. To add yet another injury, the man who finished fourth in 2021 tested positive for COVID-19 after the race.

“It’s just one race, it’s a bit cruel. I’ll probably do another one, it’s okay,” he reflected. “Obviously, it’s a bit anti-climactic because you aim for it and you have Netflix there and bla bla bla.

“But it doesn’t really matter; it matters for the team but personally, there’s always another chance, another race. To focus just on the Tour de France can be a bit too much. So it’s nice being here at the Vuelta and far more chill.”

After recovering from his torn glute, O’Connor is back to full fitness and spent most of August up at altitude on the Port d’Envalira or at home in Andorra.

Avoiding Dutch drama

Before any mountains, he aims to get through the Vuelta’s three Dutch stages without any problems. “It can’t be more tricky than the Tour or Paris-Nice or stuff like that, they’re the worst races in the world,” he said.

“If I can already get through those, there’s no reason to be scared. As for the [stage 1] TTT, we haven’t done a lot of practice, barely any teams have.”

“For sure, I come here with some GC ambitions, but the race will play out how it does,” he added. “I’m pretty confident I can be up there with the guys. I’d like to just race how I did in the Dauphiné and every other race this year, that’s the main objective.

“The objective is always to win, just because you do GC doesn’t write you off from winning a stage. It probably makes it a bit more difficult because you have less freedom and chances. But if you do take a risk, sometimes it pays off.”

His main climbing support at AG2R-Citroën in Spain will come from the likes of Bob Jungels, Clément Champoussin, Nans Peters and Jaakko Hänninen.

Going on the attack

O’Connor believes the Vuelta will fit his attacking philosophy. “I think it suits an open way to approach a hilltop finish in general because there are ten of them; GC guys won’t win them all but you will have to try to win a lot of them.”

Wherever he finishes, it seems we won’t die wondering with this aggressive Australian contender. “I don’t really want to roll into Madrid finishing 10th having just hung on every day, that’s not how I want to try and race it here,” he said.

So, you can’t always get what you want, but let’s see if O’Connor gets what he needs at the Vuelta.

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