Ben O’Connor may be riding Tirreno-Adriatico for the first time but the AG2R Citroën rider was still on the front-foot in the crosswinds of stage 3, making his presence felt among the overall contenders even before the Italian race entered climbing territory.
The stage to Foligno may have still ultimately ended in a bunch sprint, but the Jumbo-Visma squad of Primož Roglič put the hammer down at around 12km to go and with just ten kilometres remaining the wedge was being driven into the splits, with both Roglič and O’Connor prominent among the initial lead group of 13. There were nervous moments for many overall contenders, with race leader Filippo Ganna and Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) among those who quickly fought their way back while the group swelled further at around five kilometres to go as the peloton closed in.
“It was maybe not the stage for me but it was hard at the end with the crosswinds and I was able to be there, playing a little bit with the front group, but it came back together,” said O’Connor after the stage. “It didn’t really make any difference in the end but it is better always to be on the front side of the split rather than behind.”
The bunch re-formed at the four kilometre mark and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) sprinted to victory, coming off the wheel of a superb lead out from teammate Mathieu van der Poel. O’Connor finished in the peloton, holding firm at 16th in a general classification which up to now has largely been shaped by the opening individual time trial.
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O’Connor is currently 52 seconds behind leading rider, Ganna, who is expected to battle in the coming climbing stages, but is just 24 seconds behind second-placed Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) and is within three seconds of eleventh placed Roglič.
“I’m definitely going ok and it’s more important today that I didn’t lose any time,” O’Connor told Cyclingnews. “It would have been sweet if I gained some but that’s how it goes. But pretty keen to get rid of these sprint finishes, they are pretty scary.”
The last two stages have been bunch finishes, and there was a series of turns to add to the tension in the final section of stage 3, but the climbing is now set to ramp up through the next three stages. Stage 4 delivers a hilltop finish in Tortoreto, then stage 5 packs in 3,800 metres of climbing on the way to the finish atop Valico di Santa Maria Maddalena and stage 6 delivers five classified climbs before reaching the line in Osimo. The sprinters are not likely to get another opportunity until the final stage in San Benedetto del Tronto.
“Today was all about, I guess, technique and luck and a bit of power as well,” said O’Connor. “So hopefully the next three days once we get into hilly terrain it is a little less stressful and hopefully I can do some good finals.”
Even without gaining any time in the split on stage 3 the Australian, who came fourth overall at the Tour de France in 2021, looks to have made the right decision in switching from Paris-Nice to start at his first Tirreno-Adriatico instead. His presence in the move on stage 3 meant he was tackling the race from the front foot, where AG2R Citroën‘s deficit of 1:27 in the team time trial at Paris-Nice would have left him squarely on the back foot ahead of the climbing stages in France.
“We are not specialists in the team trial … so that’s the reason why I’m here in Tirreno,” said O’Connor. “I think I could do well here.”