Australian climber Ben O’Connor soared to a high-altitudeon a cold, rainy Sunday that culminated in an energy-sapping 21km ascent to the ski resort of Tignes. At the same time, Citroen AG2R’s O’Connor hauled himself into second in the overall standings. The UAE Emirates kept a watchful eye on the again hurt his rivals, strengthening his hold on the Tour lead.
O’Connor showed no signs of vertigo as he skipped the final climb near the Italian border, leaving other members of his breakaway group, including Colombian pair Nairo Quintana and Sergio Higuita, trailing in his wake. “It’s mind-blowing, it can make your heart stop, and it did that to mine,” said a visibly thrilled O’Connor.
This might be July, but there was snow visible on the peaks for much of the race, and the temperature was in single figures Celsius, with rain falling most of the day. “Conditions were atrocious,” said O’Connor, with riders looking frozen to the bone at the finish line, many trembling with cold.
Many riders missed thecut and were subsequently disqualified from continuing. One who didn’t was who left weeping with gratitude for his teammates who helped him cut. “I’m so humbled and physically broken,” said Cavendish, who kept the green jersey for best sprinter. “This is the one stage I was afraid of.”
The last man home was Nic Dlamini, the first black South African to race the Tour, who dug deep on his debut to complete the stage, eventually coming in alone 1hr 25min off O’Connor’s pace and 32min adrift of the man before him. – Some miracle –
Pogacar once again showed he is currently the strongest of the overall contenders. He dropped Ineos pairand Richie Carapaz with 4km to go, gaining another 30 seconds in his title defense. “Ben O’Connor is potentially a good GC rider; he’s strong and young. For sure, he’s in contention now,” added the Slovenian leader.
O’Connor said earlier on Sunday it would take some miracle for him to be in the top five in Paris in two weeks. “I’ll try my best, but I’m not on the same level as Tadej (Pogacar), but I’m just enjoying the fact that I can now stand here with these guys and do what I can.”
– Who is better than us? –
Champion Pogacar said he had feared being ganged up on and had taken action every time someone attacked to discourage a mass rebellion.
“Carapaz felt good for sure; in the end, they tried, and I respect that. Ineos certainly tried. I gave my best to counter-attack because if I didn’t try, I thought everybody would attack in the last kilometers,” he said. He would also insist that any hopes he would fade in the finalbecause his team is weaker than others were misplaced.
“Who is stronger than us?” Pogacar asked. “The guys do a fantastic job; I’m wearing the yellow.” Known as the ‘Condor the Andes’, Quintana had promised ahead of the day’s proceedings to go for the polka dot, and he was as good as his word taking the lead with 50 points.
However, the Tour lost two big guns as 2020 runner-upsuccumbed to exhaustion following a fall on Monday. And decided to pack his bags for Tokyo, focus on Olympic mountain bike gold after spending six days in yellow, and send the roadside fans wild with his gung-ho approach.
“I’ll be back next year,” promised the Belgian.before Tuesday’s relatively flat 190.7km run from Albertville to Valence. “I can get a lie-in at last,” race leader Pogacar said with some conviction.