While Pogačar was clearly a step above the whole field as he blasted to victory, there were few of the rest more impressive than O'Connor, as the West Australian stayed with the rest of the general classification candidates into the finish in Le Grand Bornand.
Cold and wet after the finish, O'Connor spoke about the challenges of the stage.
“It was crazy today, so difficult," said O'Connor. "I was glad I could finish with the top guys, now I need a shower."
The 25-year-old had the honour of being chased down by Pogačar at one point, an attack after the intermediate sprint dangerous enough in the now-race leader's mind to warrant shutting down. O'Connor wasn't able to respond to the long-range attack launched by the Slovenian on the Col de Romme, but then again neither was anyone else and O'Connor came in with a group of nine elite climbers four minutes and nine seconds behind the stage winner.
"I’m happy with how I ended up today," said O'Connor. "To put it into one phrase, very hard all day. Hard to control at the start, with Aurelien in the break, which was the team’s aim, I just did my best at the finish. I think a lot of guys are going to be very tired after today."
O'Connor is the lone Australian survivor from what had appeared a strong cohort at the start of the race. Now O'Connor in 14th is the only major chance of a top-10 finish, with Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) having crashed out of the race on Stage 3, then Richie Porte (INEOS Grenadiers) and Lucas Hamilton falling out of contention for the top-10 in the cold, wet conditions.
"I think it’s more crazy this year," said O'Connor, reflecting on the hectic start to the 2021 Tour de France. "Normally, it’s more controlled at the start of the race but it was really very uncontrollable and it wasn’t what I’ve come to expect from the Tour de France, from also what you watch.
"I think because the race has been so open, there’s lots of crashes and lots of GC guys out, it's leant itself to a really aggressive race. It’s really great for people to watch but it sure makes it hard for us on the bike."
The ambition for O'Connor is to continue his upward surge on the general classification, hopefully to the top-10 by the time the race reaches Paris. To acheive that feat would be even more impressive given a start to the race blighted by a nasty Stage 1 crash that saw him injured and having to nurse his way through the opening week.
"It would be a really good thing if by the end of the third week, when we get to Paris, to hopefully be able to achieve the top-10," said O'Connor. "I had a shocking start, but anything is possible in this year’s Tour de France. I want to make sure I stay aggressive and have my eyes open, as you see today, the break can win, and it’s one thing I don’t want to forget. There’s nothing better than celebrating at the finish."
The Tour de France continues with Stage 9, a 145 kilometre stage from Cluses to Tignes, finishing atop the summit finish to the ski resort in Tignes. Watch the action on SBS, SBS On Demand and the SKODA Tour Trakcer from 2030 AEST.