The 22-year-old from Western Australia won stage 3 to Merano with an impressive solo attack after the climbs of the day. He then kept his head, finished fifth in Innsbruck and so even moved up to seventh overall, 1:33 down on overall winner Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
“To get the reward as best young rider is brilliant,” he told Cyclingnews happily, as he checked his hair in the reflection of his soigneur’s sunglasses for his moment on the podium.
“It’s always great for young guys like me to aim towards goals but winning a stage at a race like the Tour of the Alps is extremely difficult if you’re young like I am. Success takes time, as does GC racing. To be good every single day is bloody hard.”
O’Connor revealed he even overcame a late, nerve-racking puncture.
“I felt really relaxed. I don’t know why. Maybe because it was confidence, maybe it was just the demeanour of being generally more relaxed about how you ride things.
“I’ve enjoyed the whole thing, this week has been brilliant, except when I punctured on the final climb, that wasn’t awesome at all,” he said, able to laugh about it now.
“I got a quick change but getting a puncture so late on is never, ever a good thing. I got back up to the Froome group and he chased the attack back and it came back together. I was pretty empty by then but I came in with the guys to hold onto everything I’d worked for all week.”
O’Connor’s breakthrough performance has secured his place in the Dimension Data team for the Giro d’Italia. He will play a vital support role as Louis Meintjes targets the overall classification but is looking forward to discovering his own limits on his Grand Tour debut.
“This is five stages and five really hard days of racing. To do that for three weeks… It must be agony sometimes but I can’t wait to find out,” he said.
“I don’t really know what to expect but if my form builds like this, there’s no reason why I can’t be up there in the mountains stages with Louis. Maybe we can play a double edge sword strategy, help him as much as possible and try some new things.”
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