Strong rides from Ben O’Connor and Louis Meintjes saw them finish just behind the lead in a pulsating stage four of the Volta Catalunya, that finished in icy La Molina.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the stage followed by Egan Bernal (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished third.
The 170.8km day featured some dramatic racing with unfortunate news that our team member Natnael Berhane was forced to abandon the race. He’d been feeling unwell since the third stage and withdrew during the course of the day following advice from the team doctor.
In a day where early on a number of the attempts to make a break were covered it eventually was Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) who finally got away opening up a gap of 1:50 with 60km to go, after firing up the Coll de Jou. He maintained that lead through the highest segment of this year’s race, La Creueta.
The Colombian held onto that advantage until 24km to go when he was eventually caught by the peloton.
With just over 11km to go Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Mérida), who had managed a break of his own, held the advantage at nearly a minute which saw Movistar, led by Marc Soler, spring into action.
On the final climb to the finish at La Molina (Alp) Quitana put the hammer down with 3km to go and was pursued by Valverde and Bernal setting up an intrigiung duel for line honours.
At his point both O’Connor and Meintjes were safely in the main bunch of contenders, with Merhawi Kudus in the following bunch a minute or so further back.
Valverde eventually prevailed crossing the line first with O’Connor 1:07 further down the road, and Meintjes a further 1:10 behind him.
Our Australian finished the day 15th in the GC, 1:32 behind Valverde, with Meintjes in 26th spot overall.
Ben O’Connor – Rider
“The stage was extremely hard. The break took a long, long time to go so you were just on the pedals all day. (For) The really big climb up to 2000m, the pace wasn’t too on but it started to get really cold at the top and we then had a real fast descent down before we started the final climb to La Molina. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel because of how cold it was but it was a small group that went off so I decided to try and gave it a go.
“I was really pleased; I dreamt of being part of a front group of a race and being competitive. I don’t need to win the Tour de France, or be the best bike rider in the world, I just want to be the best bike rider I can be, so to keep getting there, step by step, I’m super happy today.”