Why I know I can be on the podium at the Giro d’Italia, by Ben O’Co – Rouleur

I keep hearing that cycling isn’t fair at the moment, that the same few riders and teams are winning all the races. But sport is never fair and equal. Imagine if you were a tennis player for the past twenty years, playing for Federer, Djokovic and Nadal? Or Formula 1, where Mercedes hated it for six years and outdid everyone, and then Red Bull walked away with it all. Then there’s football: someone comes into Man City with a lot of money and suddenly he or she is the best team in the world.

Saying that sport is fair is not true, and cycling is the least fair sport in the world – there are so many things that can affect how you perform. It’s not fair that someone throws it into the middle of the pack for you, causing you to abandon it. It’s not fair for a TT to be left dry for three hours and then it pisses as you drive away. It’s not fair that the forecast changes and there’s a crosswind instead of a headwind and you lose a lot of time.

It is important to remember that sports go in circles. Quick-Step used to win every classic; now they don’t. After their Rabobank days, Jumbo had their fair share of average times; now they win all the time – but that doesn’t mean I have to join Visma to be successful myself. You have to accept that in sport some people will be kings for a short time and others for a longer period, and right now cycling is blessed with greats: Tadej, Jonas, Van der Poel. What can the rest of us do? Deal with it, work to the limit, try to find the limit of our physical capabilities and strive to be the best athletes possible. Whining that things aren’t fair doesn’t get us anywhere.

I’ve always had a pretty pragmatic approach to cycling because I just fell into it. Growing up in Perth, it’s so accessible to ride, and there’s a huge group ride culture there. It’s crazy how many people ride road bikes for fitness and leisure. One thing led to another and here I am, now living in Europe for eight years. Being a professional here is something that me and my wife love and cherish, and we are having a great time, but I know that when it is all over and the dust settles, we will move back to Perth because it is the best place in the world is. the world. I love my job, I strive to be the best version of myself, but I also know that this is just a moment in my life. When I go back to Australia, my life won’t revolve around cycling anymore. It’s kind of funny to say that, since I ride for a French team and there aren’t many people who love this sport as much as they do. If cycling didn’t exist, I have no idea what many French riders and staff would do with their lives.Ben O'Connor

(Photo: Zac Williams/SWPix)

I, on the other hand, can give up cycling. For example, I love my cricket. I was gutted this year when I got a season pass to watch the Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash Twenty20 League, but it was that one January/February when I wasn’t in Australia. I thought, are you kidding me? I must add that my other interests do not mean that I am not motivated to continue to improve as a cyclist.

I think I first really came to people’s attention at the 2021 Tour, and most assume that winning a stage there and finishing fourth was my breakthrough moment. It was huge of course, but actually it only confirmed what I felt a month earlier in the Dauphiné when I finished fifth at La Plagne behind Richie Porte, Miguel Ángel López and Primož. I thought, ‘Jesus, this is huge.’ It was the first time I really felt like I had what it took to be among the big boys in the big races. And when I finished in the leading group of the classification boys in Andorra on the fifteenth stage of the Tour, I thought: ‘Holy Moly, this is big news’. And the next day on the Col du Portet I was the next best man, after Pogi, Jonas and Richard Carapaz. I remember saying to myself, ‘Holy shit, this is real, I can fight the best guys.’ Finishing fourth in that Tour was bloody huge and knowing I could ride a good GC in three weeks was a revelation.

In 2022 I took a big step by consistently being a GC rider in every race, and it was pretty cool to put together a whole season of GC results. Last year was frustrating when I got sick during the Tour, but by then I had already gone from being a lost Australian neo-pro to someone who was now fighting and stepping up when it mattered. The great thing about this season is that I feel like I haven’t stopped developing physically and I’m more confident than ever about the best methods to get the best out of myself. By the way, that’s basically hitting me on the head with a hammer. Basic miles don’t do it for me. Let me go hard and suffer.

I won the main mountain stage of the UAE Tour and finished fifth in Tirreno-Adriatico at the start of the season, and in both races I saw a lot of evidence that I’m getting better than ever, like really high power on the high kilojoule days. My time trial is also going a lot better. I’ve won stages in the Giro, the Tour and in WorldTour stage races, but the next box I have to tick is winning the classification in a WorldTour stage race like the Dauphiné. I know I can do it.

Ben O'Connor

(Photo: Zac Williams/SWPix)

I think I’m a decent athlete, a good rider, and if I perform the way I think I can, I think I can get a podium in a Grand Tour too. Last year I aimed for that in the Tour, but I got sick and bent and that dream disappeared into thin air. But that always happens in a Grand Tour – there are always people succumbing to illness or crashes, you tick people off, and you just have to hope it’s not you. I don’t care if it’s the Giro, the Tour or the Vuelta, if you can finish on the podium in one of them, you can do it in all three. Okay, the Tour is a little more complicated just because of the sheer size of the thing, but physically it requires a similar effort as the others.

I think this year’s Giro is a very fair and open course: there are super long time trials, big bunch sprints, big, long climbs, and there won’t be many breakaway days. Pogi is the clear favorite – he’s something stupid like 1/20 to win – but like I said, things happen in sports. If he is ill for ten minutes during a mountain stage, then the race is a different story. And he also has his days off. This also applies to Remco and Jonas. We have to remind ourselves that these guys have been defeated before and can be defeated again. Winning a major WorldTour stage race is one box to tick, and achieving a podium in a grand tour is another.

My goal in the Giro is quite clear: I’m going there to be on the podium.


*Cover image by Sean Hardy