The Australian, in his first season with AG2R Citroën, won stage 9 in the Alps at this year’s Tour and went on to reach Paris in fourth place overall.
Despite previous assertions that he has ‘unfinished business’ with the Giro after his late abandon in 2018, and despite the temptation of a 2022 route light on time trialling, O’Connor’s return to the corsa rosa looks set to wait.
He is currently in French Alps at a first team pre-season gathering and, although race programmes have not yet been officially defined, it’s clear his mind is on July.
“For sure you’d always be tempted by the Giro, I’d love to go back to the Giro again one day, but with the way the Tour went this year, it would be pretty cool to go back to the Tour again,” O’Connor told Cyclingnews.
“I’m still in this moment where I’m trying to make the most of everything, so if there’s another chance I can do the Tour while I’m still young and ready to fight, then that’s good, because I think the older you get, the more tired you get at the Tour.”
In fact, the Giro never really got a look-in. O’Connor not only reignited his own career in 2021 but he also made a success of AG2R’s entire year. With Romain Bardet and Pierre Latour moved on to pastures new, the stage racing arm appeared to be taking a back seat, but O’Connor put them right in the spotlight at the most important event for a French team.
As such, despite the discussions not having officially taken place, there’s a clear understanding about how next year is structured, and a clear shift in approach from both sides compared to this time last year.
“I will probably be going to the Tour next year as well, but how that’s now like… a ‘thing’, you know. It’s like obligatory, if that makes sense,” O’Connor said.
“It’s not like you’re aiming for it and are having to fight for your place. Obviously if you’re in shit form you’re not going to go, but this year it’s different. It’s quite interesting reflecting on that, because it feels a lot bigger than going to the Tour this year.”
As for the parcours O’Connor will encounter next July, it might be heavier on time trialling than the Giro, with 13 kilometres on the opening day in Copenhagen and 44 rolling kilometres on the penultimate day in southern France, but the mountain stages feature many of the long climbs which suit what he describes as his ‘diesel’ engine.
To get to them, he’ll have to negotiate a tricky couple of road stages on Danish soil, which are exposed to the wind and sure to create tension, the kind that saw him crash and lose time on the opening day of this year’s race. It’ll be a similar story for the cobblestones in northern France on stage 5.
“The first week is going to be super nasty – it always is. Denmark could be quite cool, actually. The second day, if it’s windy, I still have confidence,” O’Connor said.
“It’s not the style of racing I love because it’s so dangerous but if I have [teammates] Oli [Naesen], Greg [Van Avermaet], and Micky [Schär]… if there are three guys you want to take with you, it’s them. I’m just in a great spot because you can trust them, they’ve done it before. You just have faith and you follow.
“After that, the climbs look pretty cool, quite long. The stages in the Alps are the kind of climbs I like. The Col de Portet, that massive massive climb, was one of my favourites stags this year, so I think I like the route.”