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Vuelta a Espana

Ben O’Connor ‘pissed off’ at Vuelta a España misfire

Australian mulls over missed opportunity on stage 18 of race.

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Having withdrawn from the Tour de France due to injury, Ben O’Connor has been aiming for a strong rebound at the Vuelta a España.

He recalibrated by setting the Spanish grand tour as his new target and while his GC race has been a little less stellar than he had hoped, a stage win would have turned everything around.

The Australian Ag2r Citroën rider was left wondering about what might have been after stage 18, believing he blew a good chance.

“It was good racing today. I am a bit pissed off, to be honest, because I think I rode a bit stupid today,” O’Connor said at the finish. “I think I could have fought for the win today. I am not really so happy.

“I think I needed a couple of teammates to ride real hard and make it a bit more solid. In the end it was a bit tactical at the end, but I should have waited and kept my bullets, because I spent way too many.”

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O’Connor rode aggressively on the final climb but was found wanting at the end, when surges by Enric Mas (Movistar Team) and race leader Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) started firing off. The two top GC contenders were swinging hammerblows at each other and with O’Connor’s legs lacking a little fuel, he rolled in as part of the chasing group 13 seconds back.

He ultimately placed seventh, six places further back than he was aiming for.

“I managed the final badly and I may have missed out on the victory. I really wanted to win. I was hoping for the last climb to be fast but it was purely tactical and I wasted too many bullets unnecessarily. I should have waited because I felt very strong. It could have worked.”

One of the factors complicating things was the presence of Thymen Arensman. The Team DSM rider started the day seventh overall, one place ahead of O’Connor, and was determined to keep tabs on him.

“It was obviously very difficult,” O’Connor admitted. “Arensman was playing a good game, just following me as much as he could. He did a good ride.”

Ag2r Citroën directeur sportif Julien Jurdie praised the efforts of the team, saying that Nans Peters and Nicolas Prodhomme did good work for O’Connor. He sees reasons to be hopeful about the remaining stages.

“What should be remembered is that the legs were good and that the team’s state of mind has been impeccable since the start of this third week,” he said. “It bodes well for the last two big stages because we know that Ben can move up a few places in the general classification and that the team is capable of going for a stage victory.”

Providing his legs feel like they did on Thursday, O’Connor is sure to try again. He remains eighth overall and needs to make up 1:25 on Arensman if he is to move up the GC. A stage win is the bigger goal, and would turn his season around.

Both are far from certain, but he seems to be enjoying himself again.

“It was nice to have a fun stage where it was a bit chaotic, because every other day has been a bit too simple for me,” he said.

“The other stages of this Vuelta have not been hard enough. There are two days left to do better.”