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Ben O’Connor put himself onto the provisional podium at the Critérium du Dauphiné with a strong performance on the first mountain stage of the race. 

The Australian may not have been able to live with the Jumbo-Visma duo of Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard on Saturday’s Alpine stage 7, but he was nevertheless best of the rest. 

“I’m just happy that I’m there racing with the best guys, and so close to the Tour de France,” O’Connor told reporters at the finish in Vaujany. 

The first of two weekend mountain tests that bring the Dauphiné to a climax, Saturday’s stage took the riders over the towering passes of the Galibier and Croix de Fer, before a much sharper final climb to the ski resort of Vaujany. 

The group of favourites had already been thinned by the heat and altitude, and 3km from the top of the final climb Vingegaard caused it to explode with a vicious acceleration. Tellingly, O’Connor was the only one able to join Roglic in following. 

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It wasn’t long, however, before Roglic took flight. O’Connor, unable to match the acceleration, continued to go all-in, crossing the line in fourth place, 14 seconds behind Roglic as Vingegaard, who’d sat in his wheel since the Roglic attack, picked him off for third place. 

“I actually thought they were going to wait for a sprint, so I miscalculated a bit, but that’s alright,” O’Connor said. 

“There’s not a lot you can do in that situation. You try and follow Primoz and if you can’t follow him there’s not a lot you can do. You still have to keep riding. It might seem like you lose, but if I sit up then someone else comes back. You just keep riding but when a team has two guys over the top, there’s not much else you can do.”

Despite the two Jumbo-Visma riders finishing in front of him, O’Connor will be buoyed by the list of riders who finished behind him, with David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) finishing 13 seconds back, Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) 21 seconds down, and Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) 29 seconds down. 

O’Connor now lies third overall, 1:24 down on Roglic and 40 seconds down on Vingegaard, but six seconds ahead of Geoghegan Hart, eight up on Caruso, and 16 up on Gaudu. 

The Dauphiné concludes on Sunday with the brutal summit finish at Plateau de Solaison, an 11km climb with an average gradient of over 9%.

“The last stage of the Dauphiné is always a bit of a fun fight,” O’Connor said. “It’s a harder climb tomorrow – like this but twice the length, so there’ll be a bit of an explosion.”

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: Patrick Fletcher
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