Following his impressive victory in his first race of the season at the Vuelta a Murcia, Australia’s Ben O’Connor will be gunning for an top ride overall in his debut participation in the UAE Tour, say his Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale team.
O’Connor had never won so early in the season, but in Murcia, the 28-year-old from Perth was able to drop Classics specialist and breakaway companion Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) on the final ascent of the day, the Alto del Cresta del Gallo, and solo home to the finish.
O’Connor’s main goal for the first half of the season is the Giro d’Italia, but his participation in the Tour de France is still “not 100% decided”, team management said at the Clasica Jaén, which O’Connor was expected to start but had to miss for last-minute personal reasons.
However, given his current rich vein of form and excellent morale, team directeur sportif Didier Jannel told Cyclingnews that a crack at the UAE Tour‘s GC could well become an option.
“Ben was delighted by this victory in Murcia, it was important both him and for the team, he’s our leader,” Jannel said. “For a rider who’s won a big stage in the Tour and finished at the foot of the final podium [fourth in 2021 – Ed.], it was important for him to get off to a great start.
“It wasn’t an easy win, the field was a very deep one there, and as a confidence-building exercise for him and the team, this kind of victory is really ideal. He’s had a great off-season, spending a lot of time at altitude in Sierra Nevada so he can be up there in races like Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro.”
The first race of the year is “always a voyage into the unknown,” Jannel said.
“Like all the teams, we’ve worked hard in the training camps and so on, but there are always a lot of question marks in your head – I’ve worked hard, I’ve trained well, but so have the other teams, so how will it work out?
“So yes, it was a bit of a surprise to see Ben was so strong so soon, but so much the better. We’re not going to complain. We know he’s put in the groundwork, but it’s never easy to win a race, so we’re very satisfied with both the individual and the collective performance there.”
O’Connor’s participation in the Tour de France, where he has spent his last three summers, is not 100% decided, Jannel said.
“His focus is on the Giro for now. That’s the priority for the moment. The Giro is a course he loves, where he’s already won a stage, and there’s the UAE Tour, another good test for him before Tirreno, then the Tour…