Australian climb specialist Ben O’Connor believes the Vuelta a Espana leader Remco Evenepoel is the strongest rider in the peloton this year including Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard, he told AFP on a rest day ahead of stage 10 on Monday.
The 22-year-old Evenepoel won 11 races this year including a towering performance at the Liege-Bastogne-Liege monument.
Since taking the Vuelta lead on stage six Evenepoel has dominated the overall contenders during a pair of mountain stages.
Climb specialist O’Connor was fourth on the 2021 Tour de France after a magnificent ascent to the Alpine ski resort at Tignes.
But on the 2022 edition the man from Perth had to pull out of the French tour injured, before bidding to make his mark at the 2022 Vuelta. The AG2R rider has struggled in Spain however.
“It’s been really intense, it goes off like a firework and a lot of people are suffering,” said O’Connor who is 13th in the overall standings, 5min 33sec behind the increasingly impressive Evenepoel.
“It’s literally a waste of time trying to hold Remco at the moment. He’s doing the best of the year, for everyone,” O’Connor told AFP by telephone.
“He would be up there fighting with Tadej (Pogacar) and Jonas (Vingegaard),” he said.
“So there’s no point even looking at him,” said O’Connor. “The way Remco is riding it’ll probably be more than that in the end.”
Stage 10 on Tuesday is a 30km individual time-trial where on paper at least Evenepoel is expected to punish his GC rivals once more.
O’Connor felt he still had a chance of a stage win especially if he managed to join an escape.
“I think the race won’t be decided until the Sierra Nevada and I’ll be trying there. Hopefully on the big climbs coming up, on long climbs I might have a chance to do better.”
“These stages didn’t suit me, the explosive ones, I prefer it when it’s mountains all day,” said the Australian.