Ben O'Connor claims first victory for Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale in tough Vuelta a Murcia

Decathlon has their first win as title sponsor, as Australian makes a 15km solo attack to drop Tim Wellens and take first one-day win in almost two years

Clock16:23, Saturday 10th February 2024

© Tim de Waele/Velo Collection via Getty Images

Ben O'Connor enjoyed a superb first day of racing for 2024

Decathlon has its first professional victory as co-title sponsor of the French WorldTeam, Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale. The victory has arrived courtesy of Australia's Ben O'Connor, who started his season in perfect fashion by winning the Vuelta a Murcia on Saturday.

Wearing the new light blue and white colours of Decathlon and aboard one of the team's new Van Rysel bikes - courtesy of the French sporting retailer - O'Connor rode alone for the final 15km and was quick to compliment his teammates after the finish.

"I think we were really good today, we had Paul in the break, I had Nico with me as well, and we tried to make sure that we stayed away as long as we could," O'Connor said on the podium.

"I actually loved today. It was really good, honest racing."

As the Australian referred to in his comments, Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale were well represented in the race's definitive breakaway, with O'Connor joined by teammates Paul Lapeira and Nicolas Prodhomme. Strength in numbers allowed the team to set a good tempo at the front of the race and open the door to an unlikely victory from the break.

Read more: A closer look at the Van Rysel bikes Decathlon-AG2R La Mondiale will ride in 2024

Joining O'Connor, Lapeira, Prodhomme and five other riders in the breakaway was UAE Team Emirates' Tim Wellens, who would prove a key protagonist as the race went on.

Sensing a lull in the pace of the break, O'Connor and Wellens attacked with a little over 40km to go, and the pair worked well together to build an advantage of over a minute. Wellens is famed for his strong early-season form, and the Vuelta a Murcia was proving no different.

However, the Belgian was not strong enough to withstand O'Connor's pressure on the Alto Cresta del Gallo, which stood as the final climb and topped out with just under 13km to ride. Under O'Connor's acceleration, Wellens was dropped and the Australian could descend to victory alone in Murcia.

Visma-Lease a Bike happy with their day's work

Behind the breakaway, Jan Tratnik (Visma-Lease a Bike) was tucked safely in the peloton as his teammate Sepp Kuss joined O'Connor in a move off the front of the race. The American ultimately left the race empty-handed, but as he explained following the race, Kuss was determined to race on the front foot.

"We wanted to make it a bit of a hard race for the sprinters, I thought it was a good moment to attack because the breakaway was still pretty close... There was one moment where I was a bit tired and wasn't paying attention, was a bit far back in the group and that's when the winning move went.

"But it's good that Jan was really strong and finished second, so I think we can be more or less happy," said Kuss, who was warmly received by the Spanish fans who fondly remember his Vuelta a España victory.

As Wellens and O'Connor engaged in their own feud on the slopes of the final climb, it was Tratnik who emerged the freshest from the peloton to strike out alone and reach out for a podium place. Passing the peak of the Alto Cresta del Gallo with a small deficit to Wellens, the Slovenian soon bridged across to make it a two-up chase of O'Connor in the final kilometres.

Tratnik and Wellens were not able to return to the front of the race - that spotlight was reserved for O'Connor and Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale - but Tratnik was left satisfied from a rare day spent in the lead of Visma-Lease a Bike.

The 33-year-old outsprinted Wellens to claim second place behind O'Connor.

"In the end, it is a nice beginning of the season. The long climb was a little bit difficult for me, but the last one suits me well and I also felt a little bit better in the end of the race," smiled Tratnik at the finish. "So I must say that I am satisfied for the beginning, it is super good, a nice start to the season."

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