Ben O’Connor, the bean-pole Aussie climber, really wants to be a pro cyclist. The main sponsor of his team, NTT, are throwing the towel in at the end of this season, and O’Connor has set up camp in the shop window and is going nowhere until someone snaps him, or them, up.
Twenty-four hours ago he bust a gut for the privilege of a breakaway defeat to Slovenien Jan Tratnik. Today, Stage 17, he was back for more.
In a big breakaway on this massive day of late-Giro mountains he had launched his marketing campaign with eight kilometres to go, on the lower slopes of the Madonna de Campiglio, site of our summit finish.
With one, big kick, he was gone.Embed from Getty Images
Solidly in form, pushing powerfully through the pedals, he would not be caught. A win by force of will. A great advert for the motivational powers of possible unemployment.
Post-stage, on reflection, he explained he had been ‘full-gas-crying’ after the win. Possible the most pro cyclist description of emotion it’s possible to give (super-weepy coming a close second).
He has certainly done all he can to tempt any potential sponsors to part with their money.
Back down the road, the peloton was in full trundle.
With Covid restrictions and possible snow threatening to disrupt the coming days, this stage had to be the day. Pink Jersey Joao Almeida had to be attacked, de-robed, and sent a-tumbling down the rankings. Because time is running out. The clock is ticking.
And so while O’Connor and his pals did their thing up front we watched the GC contenders, and we waited.
And then we got a coffee and some snacks. Some of us had a little nap. We flicked around the channels. We made whimsical anagrams out of O’Connor’s teammate Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier, and we waited some more.Embed from Getty Images
The peloton crossed the Forcella Valbona and the Monte Bondone. Crested the Passo Durone. Almeida’s Quickstep team on the front, keeping it steady, had it all under control. Onto the Campiglio. A couple of test-yer-legs moves from Sunweb and Ineos, and Almeida sat tight. And remained tight, to the summit, where the contenders finished largely intact.
Truth be told, not the fireworks we might have hoped for.
Tomorrow, Stage 18, weather permitting, is the mighty, legendary, Passo dello Stelvio. Stuff will happen. You have my word. Though maybe don’t expect Ben O’Connor to be up front again.
He has every right to be full-gas-tired.