Ben O'Connor
Australia's Ben O'Connor has roared to victory on the third stage of the UAE Tour. Image by AP PHOTO
  • cycling

Aussie rules as O’Connor and Vine take 1-2 at UAE Tour

Ian Chadband February 22, 2024

Ben O’Connor and Jay Vine have turned the third stage of the prestigious UAE Tour into a big day in the desert for Australian cycling.

Subiaco’s O’Connor, seemingly in the form of his life, swept to victory with a blistering last kilometre uphill surge in Wednesday’s third stage of the WorldTour event, finishing five seconds clear of his nearest pursuer, Vine.

But it was Townsville’s Vine, riding for the home UAE Team Emirates, who’s taken over at the top of the overall standings, now leading by 11 seconds from Decathlon AG2R Mondiale’s O’Connor, with the Aussie pair now both in with a fine chance of lifting the title in the one-week race on Sunday.

Opportunity knocks for the pair after Adam Yates, UAE Team Emirates’ race favourite, suffered a crash with 46km left, banging his head sharply in the fall and having to abandon, still feeling groggy, with 10km left.

But on the final 21km long drag up Jebel Jais mountain after a day of fighting crosswinds on the 176km trek from Al Marjan Island, it was the in-form O’Connor who took the race by the scruff of the neck with just 1200m left as he and teammate Valentin Paret-Peintre attacked for home.

Jay Vine thrives
 Australian Jay Vine has taken over at the top of his team’s home race in the UAE. Image by Matt Turner/AAP PHOTOS 

“I just thought ‘why not?’. In a sprint at the end I’m not always super confident so I just told him (Paret-Peintre) ‘let’s go full’,” explained 28-year-old O’Connor, who’s begun the year in brilliant form after winning the one-day Vuelta a Murcia earlier in February.

Paret-Peintre indeed went full gas to the extent that his Australian team leader could hardly keep his wheel, but within 400 metres they’d both distanced their pursuers before O’Connor then went it alone, holding on brilliantly as Vine belatedly ate into his advantage.

“It’s been a while since I won a mountain top and it was amazing actually. The boys were super good today – a second win of the year, so it’s pretty cool,” beamed O’Connor.

“All day, I felt so super good so I always thought there was a chance (of upsetting the UAE Emirates dominance). I was sad too see Adam Yates go down and lose the race like that, but as soon as you see one of their main GC guys down, it’s an opportunity you need to take into the climb.

“It’s nice to see if we can fight for the overall win now – there’s three more sprint stages and Jebel Hafeet (mountain on the final da) to come, still a lot of racing, but it’s sweet to be in the mix.”

So is Vine, who, in Yates’ absence, now looks UAE’s big hope, having leapfrogged his American teammate, Brandon McNulty, who had led overnight but struggled in the push to the line and is now third overall at 13 seconds down.

“My sights are always on winning,” said Vine. 

“The plan now is to retain the red jersey until the end with a rider from UAE Team Emirates, it doesn’t matter who – but I’m sure there are hundred guys out there who have a different idea. 

“It’s incredible that at my first race of the year I’m wearing a WorldTour leader jersey”.

Thursday’s pancake flat stage will be one for the sprinters with Australian aces Sam Welsford (BORA-hansgrohe) and Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) both hoping to challenge.