Ben O’Connor excluded from Decathlon AG2R’s long list for Tour de France

Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale’s management has confirmed that Ben O’Connor won’t be racing in the Tour de France this year. This comes after his fourth-place finish at the Giro d’Italia. Julian Jurdie, the lead sports director, stated that the Australian rider is “not on the long list right now” for July.

O’Connor had earlier indicated that the Giro d’Italia would be his top Grand Tour priority for the year. Despite encountering some illness in the third week, he managed to secure fourth overall in Rome. The team also celebrated two mountain stage wins with Valentin Paret-Peintre and Andrea Vendrame, along with clinching the teams’ classification.

“In my eyes, fourth in the Giro is very, very good. And in all honesty, when you are fourth overall after three weeks, it means you deserve to be fourth,” Jurdie told French website cyclismactu.net, discussing the West Australian’s performance.

Jurdie further explained, “He had mechanical problems, no crashes either, so there are no regrets. Ben did his race, tried to keep up with the best, but he got a little stuck at times.”

Tour de France Squad Taking Shape

The Decathlon team for the Tour de France will be centred around Austrian rider Félix Gall, who aims to replicate his top ten overall finish from 2023, along with a potential stage win. Sprinter Sam Bennett is also expected to target the sprint stages.

“There is currently a group of twelve riders, and they all know they are on this list,” Jurdie said. “There is still time to refine the selection. Ben O’Connor? Currently, he is not one of the twelve riders who appear in this preselection.”

He added, “It is now up to us, the technical staff, to make decisions, and we are in regular meetings to develop the eight riders for the Tour de France. We have made progress on certain points, but we are still looking for benchmarks, particularly in the mountains, hence the importance of the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse.”

Impressive First Half of 2024 Season

Jurdie also discussed the team’s successful first half of the 2024 season, which has seen them claim 23 wins so far, more than double their total of nine for 2023 and 11 for 2022.

“To see the team ranked number 2 in the UCI classification and with 23 victories on June 1 is very exceptional,” Jurdie told cyclismactu.net. “We have to make the most of that but keep our feet on the ground. We’ve had good, consistent performances all the way through the first part of the season.”

He expressed pride in the team’s position, saying, “Of course there’s a great deal of pride when you see that we’re running behind UAE Team Emirates, who are untouchable, but also ahead of some very big teams. It’s truly impressive.”

Jurdie attributed the team’s success to various factors, including their new title sponsor, Decathlon, and their switch to Van Rysel bikes. “We knew the data about the bikes was good, but it was only on the ground that we could confirm that, both at training camp and in the first races of the season,” he said, noting the bike’s high-level aerodynamics as a key factor.

There were also changes in France Cyclisme, the management company that runs the team, including a new boss, Dominique Serieys, and a restructured company. Discussions at last year’s training camp in December had focused on the need to take the team “out of its comfort zone and change things.”

Future Plans and Speculations

Jurdie mentioned that discussions to keep Valentin Paret-Peintre, a stage winner in the summit finish of Bocca della Selva in the Giro, were well advanced, despite rumours linking the Frenchman to Soudal-QuickStep for 2025.

He also recognised Tadej Pogačar, the winner of the maglia rosa, as the main GC contender for the Tour de France in July. “It will be a more intense struggle than the fight for the maglia rosa, that’s for sure. I think Pogačar will handle his recovery time in June very well; he’ll be going in there as the number one favourite, and afterwards, there will be a stunning battle for yellow,” Jurdie predicted.

Main photo credit: Tim de Waele/Getty