Tour of the Alps continues in the name of spectacular racing, surprises and big champions who never surrender to predictable outcomes. Those who thought that the big guns, worn down by the battle on the Alpe di Pampeago, could leave the spotlights to their liutenants in the third stage from Ora/Auer to Merano/Meran (138,3 km), were clearly and definitely contradicted. Long distance attacks, accelerations, twists of fate, a new leader and another youngster who comes up on the international scene on the roads of the Euroregion Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino.
Few people, maybe, knew the name of Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) until the final kilometers of yesterday’s stage, when his white jersey was standing out among those of the top favorites on the Pampeago climb. Today, the 21-year-old Australian – a runner until 4 year ago, and little familiarity with a bike that far – showed it wasn’t by case, taking his second career win in Merano with a solo move in the finale. Good timing, and more: previously, he had attacked with Thibaut Pinot and Domenico Pozzovivo with 50 km to go, on the Passo Palade/Gampenpass climb, getting back and distancing on the four morning’s escapees – Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Manuel Senni (Bardiani-CSF) and Stephan Rabitsch (Felbermayr-Simplon).
Their attempt was reeled in by the main favorites’ group only in the final kilometers of descent towards Meran-o, particularly thanks to the solid work of Team Sky for leader Chris Froome.
With 8 km to go, the young Australian went back on the attack, this time by himself, exploiting a moment of uncentainty of the 10-man leading group, left without the fuchsia jersey of Ivan Ramiro Sosa: a crash on descent took the Androni-Sidermec’s Colombian out of contention, ad he surrendered more than 4 minutes on the finishing line.
O’Connor showed up in beautiful sunny Merano, raising his arms five on the finish five second before the arrival of the top favorites, edged by his former fellow escapees – Thibaut Pinot and Domenico Pozzovivo. The Frenchman keeps raking placement at the Tour of the Alps, and while having only one win to show for himself at the race – last year in Trento – today he could celebrate the race lead in Merano.
“Last year I lost the jersey and the race to Geraint Thomas for a matter of four seconds – recalled Thibaut – this time I have managed to have it back, and I don’t want to leave it anymore. Our attack was not planned today, but when I saw other strong guys like Fabio Aru trying to move, I went on as well. This is my racing style, and I believe races like the Tour of the Alps, with short and tough stages, are the best possible way to propose a great show like today’s.”
Earning the spotlights today though was Ben O’Connor, his outgoing smile and the irriverence of those who started racing for fun and keeps discovering his potential day by day: “Our Dimension Data team came to the Tour of the Alps with a stage win as goal, and I am happy we have achieved it. After yesterday’s display, today I was focused on not missing a single opportunity for another good result, so I went on the wake of Pinot on the Passo Palade/Gampenpass. I like long climbs, today was a stage suited to me: last year I had been training in Val Gardena/Grödental, and it was an awesome experience. Clearly, I have a special feeling with Südtirol.”
Except for the unlucky Sosa, little has changed in the top favorites’ situation: Pinot is leading with 15 seconds on Pozzovivo and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), who surrendered some valuable seconds on the way down from the Gampenpass. One second behind is Chris Froome (Team Sky), who gave the impression once again of being willing to go the distance to win this Tour of the Alps. Fifth spot for Fabio Aru (at 50”), looking much better today than yesterday on the way to Pampeago.
The next round of this thrilling challenge will happen tomorrow, Thursday April 19th, over 134,3 km from Chiusa/Klausen to Lienz, in Tyrol. After the Terenten climb, early on, the race could light up on the Bannberg ascent, 6,9 km long at a 6,7% average gradient, peaking just 10 km before the finish in Lienz. Based on the condition and the determination of the top favorites, we should be up for another great show.
Tour of the Alps stage 4 will be live on TV from 14.00 to 15.30 CET, thanks to the PMG production broadcast live by Eurosport 1 (Europe, Asia, Oceania), RaiSport (Italy), ORF (Austria), TV 2 (Denmark), L’Equipe (France), Eleven (North America), FloBikes (North America, Central America, South America), SkySport (New Zealand) and Econet (Africa), and delayed on Bike Channel (Italy).
The live streaming will also be aired on the Facebook page “PMG Sport” and on websites Pmgsport.it, Repubblica.it, Gazzetta.it, inbici.net, cicloweb.it, pulsemedia.it, oasport.it, LaPresse.it, Corrieredellosport.it, Tg.la7.it, Federciclismo.it, Tuttobiciweb.it, Cyclingpro.net, SpazioCiclismo.it, CiclismoSport.Go.tv, Mondiali.net and DirettaCiclismo.it.