Ben O'Connor
Australia's Ben O'Connor has missed out on the biggest stage-race win of his career by two seconds. Image by AP PHOTO
  • cycling

O’Connor agony as he misses UAE Tour win by two seconds

Ian Chadband February 26, 2024

Ben O’Connor has been pipped agonisingly for victory by just two seconds while Jay Vine’s hopes disintegrated as Australia’s big week at the prestigious UAE Tour ended in anti-climax.

The two Aussies had begun the final day on Sunday in command at the week-long WorldTour event, with just 11 seconds separating leader Vine from second-placed O’Connor, but it all went wrong for the Aussie pair on the slopes of the Jebel Hafeet mountain as Belgian Lennert Van Eetvelt proved a shock winner.

While Vine, riding for the home UAE Team Emirates, suffered a miserable day, getting distanced at the bottom of the climb in such a sub-par performance that there were suspicions he wasn’t well, it looked to have gifted a golden opportunity for O’Connor to earn the biggest GC win of his career.

But the Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale rider from Perth, suddenly finding himself having to control the race effectively as virtual leader over the final few kilometres, couldn’t respond to an electric late charge with 1700 metres left by Lotto-Dstny’s 22-year-old Van Eetvelt.

He charged away to distance third-placed O’Connor by just 22 seconds, and the gap was just enough for him to pip the Australian by just two seconds after nearly 1000km of riding in the desert over the week.

“In the end, I’m just a bit disappointed,” admitted O’Connor. 

“It would have been a great moment for me to take the victory but I just didn’t have enough, and in the end the strongest guy won.

“Second overall , it’s still a success, but you’re left wanting without the overall victory.

“The final kilometres were rough. I just exploded and had very little left. I wanted to get the bonus seconds at the finish line but didn’t realise how strong the guy from Lotto (Van Eetveld) was, so chapeau to him.” 

The 28-year-old O’Connor, who’d earned a brilliant stage win earlier in the race, would have joined the elite likes of Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic and Remco Evenepoel if he’d managed to achieve AG2R’s first stage-race win for a decade, but it was Van Eetvelt’s day.

“Unbelievable! I can’t believe it. This morning everyone was telling me to give everything, try and go for GC. I was like let’s stay realistic, I’m still far behind the world’s best guys in there like Jay Vine,” he beamed.

“It’s just hard to believe that I pulled it off. I expected the race would be harder before the last two kilometres, but I just went for all or nothing. This winter I knew I had made big improvements. Now I hope this is the beginning of something big.”

UAE Team Emirates had looked in command of the race beforehand, with Jay Vine in the red jersey and Brandon McNulty lying third overall, but both riders were surprisingly distanced on the lower slopes of the tough final climb.

Ironically, it was the late kick with two kilometres left from another Australian Michael Storer (Tudor Pro) that triggered Van Eetvelt’s decisive surge. 

Storer eventually finished fourth on the stage and an excellent sixth place on GC overall, but it was a calamitous day for Vine as he limped home over four minutes down on the leader to tumble from first to 22nd for the home team in the final standings.