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Broken on Brocon: Ben O’Connor Giro podium hopes crack

Ben O’Connor’s dream of ascending the Giro d’Italia podium has a potentially fatal blow on the day taken by princely Tadej Pogacar designated to let someone else prevail in a mountain-top finish.

The fourth-placed Australian star, who had identified Wednesday’s 17th stage that climaxed atop the Brocon Pass as the ideal one for him to take back crucial seconds in the battle for third, ended up sending over another 40 seconds to his key rivals.

Meanwhile, up ahead, it proved a wonderful day for young German prospect Georg Steinhauser, who ended race leader Pogacar’s streak of stage wins with a courageous solo victory – but only because the great Slovenian decided to attack when it was already too late.

Georg Steinhauser could hardly believe his courageous stage win at the Giro d’Italia. (AP PHOTO)

When Pogacar, who’d won the previous two days’ mountain stages, did hit the after-burners on the second ascent of Brocon, his main GC rivals were as usual left scattered by his blistering acceleration.

He ended up powering home second, one minute 24 seconds behind Steinhauser, while both Dani Martinez and Geraint Thomas, second and third respectively in the GC, put more damage on O’Connor, who struggled to the line in 12th place on the day.

It meant he held on to fourth place, but he’s now 1:43 behind Ineos’s Thomas and 2:05 adrift of BORA-hansgrohe’s Martinez, with his ambition of being only the fifth Australian after Cadel Evans, Richie Porte, Jai Hindley and Jack Haig to finish on the overall podium of a Grand Tour now looking pretty much a lost cause.

Meanwhile, Pogacar continues to inhabit a world of his own. He’s now increased his overall lead to a staggering 7:42 over Martinez, 8:04 from Thomas and 9:47 from Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale team leader O’Connor.

The Australian’s suffering on the slopes came the day after his much-publicized attack on the Giro organizers as “dinosaurs”, criticizing them after the chaotic, delayed start to an eventually truncated stage 16.

Stage 17 didn’t prove anywhere near as wretched, but another day of incessant climbing was right up the street of 22-year-old Grand Tour debutant Steinhauser (EF Education–EasyPost), who went alone on the first ascent of the Brocon with just over 30km of the 159km stage remaining.

“It’s something unbelievable,” said Steinhauser. “Already on stage eight, I noticed that I had good legs, maybe the legs to win a stage.

“The queen stage (stage 15) was an unbelievable day. I could already be happy with my third place that day.

“I went from the beginning in the break. It was a bit strange because we got caught by the peloton, but at one moment I thought I had to try again – and I did, and it worked out.

“I heard on the radio (that Pogacar was on the charge). I was super nervous on the last climb.

“I knew I had to push all the way to the finish. I heard at one point that he was attacking, but it was already two kilometers to go, so I thought I would make it.”

Thursday’s stage 18 is one of two remaining for the sprinters, with Kaden Groves, a distant second in the points classification behind Italy’s Jonathan Milan, and Caleb Ewan looking to break Australia’s stage-winning blank at this Giro.

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