Ben O'Connor (AG2R-Citroen) was third overall heading into the final stage of the Tour de Romandie, he slipped a few paces to sixth overall but was brimming with excitement at his performance against some of the top stage race riders in the world on the Swiss mountains.
O'Connor was still breathing hard from his time trial performance when he looked at the time he posted, 52 seconds behind stage-winner Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck-QuickStep).
"For me that's good," said O'Connor before elaborating on what the week of racing signified. "For me, it's an improvement, a race where I've stepped up. I was able to put the race together for the overall. I'm super pleased for the team and how they've supported me throughout this."
O'Connor impressed at the 2020 Giro d'Italia, winning a stage, taking second on another and looking like one of the strongest climbers outside the general classification riders at the Italian Grand Tour. He secured a contract with AG2R-Citroen just after that performance and came into the 2021 season with some leadership opportunities coming his way in early season races. He was fifth at the UCI 2.1 Haut Var tour before hitting the World Tour races with a solid 12th overall in Paris-Nice, 1.44 behind the winner, and 23rd, 15.38 behind, at the Tour of the Basque Country.
The Tour de Romandie was O'Connor's standout performance so far this season, capitalising on the opportunity in the mountains as he took second on the queen stage of the race, emerging through the mists after being a force in the attacks on the steep ascent to the summit finish in poor conditions. O'Connor talked of the momentum that delivered him to this top-10 finish, the first of his fledgling general classification career.
"The stars have aligned," said O'Connor. "The confidence is amazing now, sometimes it's just a change of scene, that new point in your career and in your life. All I can say is I'm super stoked and I'm ready for a holiday."
The 25-year-old will take some time off before going all-in for his preparation for the Tour de France, where he seems set to join a potent climbing roster alongside the likes of Clement Champoussin, Benoit Cosnefroy and Greg van Avermaet. For the moment, O 'Connor was simply happy to appreciate the performance and celebrate before shifting his focus towards later goals.
"A couple of glasses of wine and a beer or two," said O'Connor, "then I go to altitude for the Tour de France. I can't wait, it's a new chapter and things look good."
Fellow Australians Richie Porte (second) and Lucas Hamilton (eighth) kept O'Connor company in the 2021 Tour de Romandie top 10.