Madonna di Campiglio (Italy), Oct 22 (IANS) It was a case of role reversals as NTT Pro Cycling’s Ben O’Connor kept Bahrain-McLaren’s Hermann Pernsteiner at bay to win his first Grand Tour stage after starring in the breakaway for the second day running in the ongoing Giro D’Italia.
Twenty-four hours after missing out to Bahrain-McLaren’s Jan Tratnik in Stage 16, O’Connor bounced back with a superb performance from an initial 19-man breakaway in the mountainous 203km stage.
Channelling his inner Marco Pantani, the 24-year-old Australian darted clear of his fellow escapees with 8.5km remaining on the famous climb to Madonna di Campiglio, where the man known as ‘The Pirate’ took a fateful fourth stage win in 1999 before being booted out of the race while in pink.
Pernsteiner came home 31 seconds down to take second place and rise four places to 11th in the general classification after Joao Almeida and his rivals for the pink jersey cancelled each other out en route to finishing just over five minutes down on the man of the moment, O’Connor.
With title sponsors NTT pulling out at the end of the season, leaving the South African team (formerly known as Dimension Data and MTN-Qhubeka) facing the prospect of being forced to fold, a first stage win at a Grand Tour in three years could prove to be exactly the fillip that they need to attract future sponsors – and win O’Connor a new contract.
But with confirmation of the removal of the Colle dell’Agnello and Col d’Izoard from Saturday’s penultimate stage of the race being broadcast on Eurosports network, those riders wishing to wrest the maglia rosa from the shoulders of the 22-year-old race leader will have to make the most of the fearsome ascent of the Passo dello Stelvio in Stage 18 otherwise risk running out of time.