Ben O’Connor has revealed he was still concerned about the threat of Tadej Pogacar despite his own fantastic ride to win Stage 9 of the Tour de France.
The AG2R Citroen rider claimed his first tour victory and at one stage looked like claiming the yellow jersey from the Slovenian as he rocketed up the general classification.
However, Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) demonstrated his brilliance in the final 4km to leave Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) in his wake and tighten his grip on the race lead.
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Although O’Conner’s Stage victory wasn’t in doubt, he admitted he was still concerned ahead of the finish.
“I was actually scared Tadej was going to explode from behind and chase me down but I knew if I stayed steady and didn’t cramp I could win the stage," he said.
I had faith and it was about making sure I didn’t panic because as soon as you start to think about winning all sorts of things happen to your mind, your lungs, your heart.
“It can make your heart stop and it definitely made mine stop just before.”
Ben O'Connor attacks Sergio Higuita with 17.3km to go
O’Connor launched a significant attack on Sergio Higuita (EF Education–Nippo) with 17km, eventually finishing 5:07 ahead of Mattia Cattaneo (Deceuninck-QuickStep). Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) made up the podium.
“It was always the dream. Just to be here was the first dream,” O’Connor said following his win.
“To achieve this is a testament to everyone who has put faith in me, my fiancé, my parents, my best friends, it’s been a wild ride. It’s mindblowing.
“It’s so fulfilling. I’m loving every single moment. The team has had so much faith in me. It’s special."
'It's mindblowing' O'Connor reacts to Stage 9 win
The Australian also confessed he hadn’t initially seen the stage win on the cards but seized an opportunity when it presented itself.
“I wasn’t meant to be in the break but there was a big group and I didn’t really know what to do.
I heard we had a great opportunity both to claim time on the GC and on a long day like this, I knew I could win at the end.
“It was a mad stage. Conditions were atrocious.”
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