The team has a successful history at New Zealand’s only UCI tour having won both the 2012 and 2015 editions but due to five of the riders being selected to race the Tour Down Under in Adelaide at the same time the roster had to be re-worked in the hope of repeating the feat again. Ben was joined by perennial climber Mark O’Brien, Sam Crome, Liam Aitcheson and Fraser Gough.
The race is normally defined by the queen stage, a summit finish on top of Admirals Hill so being without a designated sprinter the boys bide the time whilst ensuring that we were always at the pointy end of the field. Saturday’s stage four was “D” day with Fraser and Liam given the job of keeping the race under control and the break within sight at the base of Admiral’s Hill. This allowed Ben and Mark to conserve as much energy as possible and gave them the best shot of a big performance on the climb. Early on the climb Ben took off causing the race to explode. Ben was joined by Michael Torkler briefly before forging on alone to take an emphatic solo victory. Behind Mark was doing a great job of protecting Ben but as soon as it was apparent that he was safe he stormed clear to take second. The result put Ben in the leaders jersey with Mark in second and after a tough day defending a barrage of attacks they managed to hold the lead and take first and second for the tour. Speaking after the race had finished the 20 year old West Australian was clearly elated "It's unbelievable. I am super relieved to get through today and the Avanti IsoWhey one-two is incredible. We couldn't have done any better," O'Connor said.
Meanwhile in Australia the boys riding in the national UNISA team at the Tour Down Under showed they weren’t out of their depth against the quality field with Chris Hamilton impressing the huge crowd on Willunga Hill with a solid ride to finish 11th only 17 seconds behind stage winner Richie Porte. Chris finished 14th overall and was well supported by the team for the whole week.
The team now lines up for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race this Sunday and then the Jayco Herald Sun Tour where they will compete against Tour De France winner Chris Froome of SKY Pro Cycling.