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Giro hat-trick for Pogacar as Aussie O'Connor third

Ben O'Connor has delivered another fine performance to boost his hopes of a podium finish at the Giro d'Italia - but the Australian was again just a bit player amid  the unrelenting Tadej Pogacar supershow.

O'Connor tried to hang on for all he was worth on the summit finish of the eighth stage at Prato di Tivo on Saturday, but he could only finish third as Pogacar sprinted away to his third victory in the opening eight days of a race he's completely dominating.

In the toughest stage so far in the Apennines, with a 14km category-one ascent to finish, Pogacar looked as if he could have picked his moment even earlier to attack, but was happy to wait until well within the last kilometre to burst away, pursued in vain by Dani Martinez and O'Connor.

The double Tour de France winner still had a big enough gap to raise his arms in triumph at the finish line, with the bonus seconds for victory now extending his commanding lead over Colombian Martinez to two minutes 40 seconds.

Geraint Thomas, fourth on the day, is now 2:58 adrift, while Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale's O'Connor, who is beginning to look really good after his over-ambitious start to the Giro, is 3:39 behind UAE Team Emirates rider Pogacar.

"I'm really happy with how the stage went today," said Perth's O'Connor. "As a team, we were super strong and I was surrounded all the time by the boys.

"I laid it all down for the sprint at the end, took the wheel of Martinez and tried to see if I'd come around. Third is a good result in a mountain-top finish in the Giro, so, hopefully, I can go one better the next time."

The brutal finale made it a particularly tough day for Australia's 23-year-old road race champion Luke Plapp, who suffered in the mountains to traipse home some 20 minutes behind and lose the white jersey as the race's top young rider which he had earned the day before with his fine time trial.

The Jayco AlUla rider is now out of contention for that prize, dropping down to 11th overall in that category and plummeting to 32nd overall.

But another Australian enjoyed a notable day of success with Tudor Pro's Michael Storer joining the breakaway and then hanging in tough to finish ninth on the stage, just 13 seconds behind Pogacar. The Sydneysider is now 12th in the overall standings.

But Pogacar just keeps piling the hurt on his chasers.

"I was not expecting to win at all today. But as a team we rode super well from the beginning. We hit the last climb with a good advantage," he said.

"Rafal Majka (his chief lieutenant in the mountains) did a great job in the lead-out. As soon as we survived the first long categorised climb, my teammates wanted me to go for the stage win."

And once again he delivered, with his dream of Giro-Tour de France double in the same year looking ever more attainable.