Volta Catalunya #7: O’Connor jumps up GC to finish 11th

Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) won the final stage of the Volta Catalunya, riding away from Marc Soler (Movistar) on the final climb of the finishing circuit in Barcelona. Pierre Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) led home the reduced group of favourites to take 3rd on the stage. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won the Volta Catalunya overall.

The final stage of the Volta Catalunya saw riders take on a familiar 155km route, with 8 laps of the 6.8km Barcelona city circuit to finish off the stage. The cat 3 climb on the city circuit always ensures spectators are in for an exciting finale, and this year was no different.

For Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka, the goal was to see if Ben O’Connor could steal a few seconds to move up from his 15th place on GC, which he started from at the beginning of the day. It was an incredibly fast and difficult start to the stage as riders were constantly attacking, but no groups could go clear.

The race was in a line for close to 100km before a group of 8 riders went clear just before entering Barcelona. O’Connor was riding attentively, always near the front of the peloton. Movistar maintained a high pace at the head of the main group, protecting Valverde’s overall lead.

The field was whittled down, lap by lap, as the attacks kept going each time up the climb. O’Connor kept his composure and measured his effort well to stay with the main favourites. As the original break disintegrated on the circuit, a number of riders continued to try and go clear until Yates, Carlos Verona (Mitchelton-Scott), Soler and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) put some space between themselves and the main group with 2 laps to go.

Movistar led the chase behind, with only 20 odd riders remaining in the group, including our young Australian. Just before the start of the final lap, a crash in the front group took down Egan Bernal (Team Sky) and the Colombian had to abandon the race while sitting in 2nd place overall. Yates dropped his fellow attackers on the final time up the circuit climb and would not be caught before the finish, with Soler holding on for 2nd.

The favourites group, came charging in 18 seconds down with O’Connor taking 12th on the stage. The result was good enough to see our 21-year-old climber jump from 15th on GC to finish 11th overall. It was a fine performance from our 2nd year pro, O’Connor, his best yet at World Tour level.

Ben O’Connor – Rider
Today was another really hard day. The break didn’t establish itself over the first two categorised climbs, and the peloton split up often. By the time we got to the circuit there was a break with a very slight advantage but it came back and the race was just a battle of attrition. The third last lap was probably the most difficult and from there it was only like 20 riders left. I was still feeling pretty good but I was on my limit for most of those laps.

I did my best to be part of that front group and not get caught out by any moves. There was a big crash which I managed to avoid which was good, and then to finish it off by a hanging onto the group on the last lap. It is a great step forward for me, I didn’t expect to be going so well here and it is a privilege to race up at the head of a race with guys like Valverde and Thibaut Pinot. I am honestly ecstatic with this result. We might not have got the best results continually from the tour, but this week was always about preparing for the Giro with Louis, and I am looking forward to playing my role in that race.