La Seu d’UrgellThe world upside down: three stages of the Cycling Tour of Catalonia and three Australian victories, as if instead of going up to the Pyrenees, the race was through the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. After the sprint successes of Michael Matthews and Kaden Groves, both of the Time Bike Exchange team, in the first two stages, AG2R rider Ben O’Connor smiled at La Molina, passing by. put the jersey of leader of this edition 101 of the Catalan race. “Winning the Tour would be an important step forward in my career,” said a man who knows the stage perfectly, because he lives in Andorra. It is no coincidence that so many Australians win in Europe, because many are already spending more time in the Old Continent than down under. “It simply came to our notice then. I know her, she had points of reference “, said O’Connor, who admitted the surprise of having arrived alone at La Molina, where some skiers were still going down the slopes, in the background, while cyclists were arriving. Six seconds later, Juan Ayuso, the youngest runner in the race, and the veteran Colombian Nairo Quintana entered Barcelona.

The stage left Perpignan, where the Volta had not passed for 67 years. Rubén Peris, the tireless director of the Volta, a man who is attentive to all the details, took the opportunity to leave a bouquet of flowers in the tomb of Muç Miquel, the cyclist from Vila-seca who won the Volta on 1924 and 1925, before moving to France, where he was part of the French resistance and was assassinated by the Nazis in the Neuengamme camp. Miquel was able to be champion of the Volta as part of the team of the Unió Esportiva Sants, the entity that still organizes the race, before seeing how a promising young man, Marià Cañardo, passed in front of him. A tragic hero, because, despite surviving the Nazi death camp and being released by the British, he was so thin and sick that he could not return home and stayed in the field hospital, where, taking advantage of the soldiers Allies continued to fight, Nazi hospital workers killed patients by poisoning them. And one of them was Miquel.

After the tribute, bicycles began to roll, among fans with flags and a group of National Front militants who took advantage of the crowd to distribute propaganda from their party. What would Muç Miquel, a communist militant, have thought if he had seen them. The group left Perpignan, towards Vilafranca de Conflent, towards the snow, in a stage that did not mark differences in the general, with all the favorites arriving together to about 10 seconds of O’Connor. Names like the veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), the Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz (Ineos) or the Colombian Esteban Chaves (EF Education-Easy Post). Only the British Simon Yates (Team Bike Exchange – Jayco) arrived with a face of suffering and does not seem to be able to win the Tour a year after the victory of his brother Adam. At the end of the stage, the Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and the Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) withdrew because they were ill. A beautiful stage in which the great getaway starred the Basques Ander Okamika (Burgos-BH) and Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel Euskadi), the Dane Casper Pedersen (Team DSM) and the Italian Simone Petilli (Wanty), who have arrived in get over eight minutes ahead. But on the last climb they were caught. And careful vigilance between the favorites could only be broken by O’Connor with an attack about 10 miles from the end in which he never went more than 40 seconds away. It was enough for him to win the stage, while the other rivals thought more about the overall classification. A dangerous game, because in the last decade the winner is almost always the one who wins the La Molina. And O’Connor has proven to be versatile enough to aspire to be the second Australian to win the Tour, after Richie Porte in 2015. In fact, last year he finished fourth in the Tour overall making him an aspirant. to enter Montjuïc triumphantly this coming Sunday.

Before that, it will have to overcome a demanding stage, the fourth, between La Seu d’Urgell and the first-class port of Boí Taüll (Alta Ribagorça), with a distance of 166.7 km. The return leg has not been completed in Boí Taüll since 2002. A final in which legendary names have won, such as Claudio Chiappucci (1994) or Chava Jiménez (1995).

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