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Vuelta a Espana

Ben O’Connor passes first exam at Vuelta a España: ‘I haven’t raced a proper stage in months’

O'Connor takes long view on Vuelta GC battle: 'You don't want to burn your matches early.'

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LAGUARDIA, Spain (VN) — Ben O’Connor wasn’t sure how he’d do in Tuesday’s searing finale at the Vuelta a España.

After all, the Aussie star hadn’t raced anything steeper than a Dutch bridge since crashing out of the Tour de France last month.

His legs erased any internal demons, and the Ag2r-Citroën star kicked to sixth in the steep uphill “wall” in stage 4 in the heart of Spain’s rioja wine country.

“Things went pretty good today. I was happy to make the sprint, but I cannot ‘perfect’ a short sprint. I think I need to take a bit more confidence, and commit to the line,” O’Connor said. “Sometimes I get caught back out of position.

“The boys were really good today,” he said. “We almost managed the heat well today with lots of water. I think we had a really good day.”

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Speaking before the start of the stage, O’Connor wasn’t sure what to expect as the Vuelta landed in Spain after three nervous  — and flat — days of racing in the Netherlands.

After two crashes forced him out of the Tour, he retreated to Andorra to spend days at altitude ahead of the Vuelta, but hadn’t raced on anything but mostly flat roads since July.

“After the Tour, I haven’t done a proper stage in quite a few months,” O’Connor said. “It will be nice to have some less stressful racing than we saw, and let the legs do the talking.”

O’Connor: ‘This is maybe the only time I’ll be able to prepare for the Vuelta without the fatigue of the Tour’

O’Connor is pumped to be racing again.

After his fourth place breakout in the 2021 Tour, the Australian said he could turn the page pretty quickly once he overcame the initial disappointment of crashing twice in the Tour and having to abandon.

“After the Tour was done, it was all about thinking what the next objective is. This is the first and maybe the only time that I’ll be able to prepare for the Vuelta without the fatigue of the Tour,” O’Connor said. “Now I come here even more ready, but without the same level of stress that comes with the Tour.”

Tuesday’s encouraging result in stage 4 bodes well for what lies ahead this week.

Though blistering sun and heat pelted the peloton Tuesday, forecasters are calling for cooler temperatures and rain across a week of racing on the jagged mountains of northern Spain.

“I love racing the Basque Country. I really like this style of racing that comes with northern Spain, the inclement weather, the harder gradients, that’s my kind of jam,” O’Connor said. “I need some longer climbs. We’ll see if you’re good or not pretty fast, but it’s a grand tour, you have to be pretty sure of yourself to attack hard.

“You know that later in the second and third week, there are some serious long climbs at Sierra Nevada and Pico Blanco,” he said. “You don’t want to burn your matches early.”

O’Connor passed the first test Tuesday.