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O'Connor and Ewan lead Aussie hopes at Giro d'Italia

Ben O'Connor is ready to challenge for the first podium finish of his Grand Tour career at the Giro d'Italia amid the overwhelming feeling among the field for the 107th edition that the top step is reserved for only one man.

Not, of course, that Australia's top GC hope, among its nine participants, is about to quite concede the 2024 title yet to the imperious Tadej Pogacar before the event begins in Turin this Saturday.

But such has been the Slovenian's Merkcx-like form this season that the bookmakers in Britain have installed Pogacar, the double Tour de France winner, as as 3-10 odds-on shot to emerge victorious in his first Giro.

But the 28-year-old O'Connor, among the support cast billed to be scrapping for the lower steps of the podium as long as Pogacar avoids the many pitfalls that come with every brutal three-week examination in Italy, knows the only option is not to give the overwhelming favourite a second thought.

Ewan Jayco
Caleb Ewan will be looking to win a sixth Giro stage for Jayco AlUla. (Con Chronis/AAP PHOTOS)

"To get your foot in front of Pogacar is pretty difficult, but in the end, I don't really care. You have to look at your own race and your own performance and what you are actually physically capable of," O'Connor told globalcyclingnetwork.

"You have to focus on things that are within your control and try to execute that. Because if you look around too much, then maybe you can be a little bit caught up - on who's there."

O'Connor has focused his 2024 hopes on the Italian race, having made the unusual agreement with his French team, Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale, to prioritise the season's first Grand Tour ahead of the home race that's most important to them.

With that in mind, O'Connor, who's best ever finish in a Grand Tour was his brilliant fourth place at the Tour de France in 2021, has front-loaded his season to be at his very best in the Giro, where he's not had the greatest fortune in the past.

Having finished second in this year's UAE Tour and Tour of the Alps, and fifth in Tirreno-Adriatico, O'Connor has looked to be at the top of his game after a couple of mediocre seasons by the standards which he'd been setting himself.

"I would love to do that," he said of his hopes of a first Grand Tour podium finish. "That would be, as a personal ambition, something to look towards because it's something that is attainable. I think it is within my capabilities."

O'Connor's best Giro had been back in 2018 when he was lying 12th only to suffer a race-ending crash and a broken collar bone, but in his last Giro in 2020 he enjoyed a famous stage win atop Madonna di Campiglio, his first at a Grand Tour.

That stage-winning feeling is a treat Caleb Ewan experienced five times at the Giro, and he's hoping for more in this edition after a couple of wins already this season back with his home Australian team, Jayco AlUla.

Jayco, though, also have national champ as another potential card to play, while Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who won a stage in last year's edition, will also be looking to be in the sprint shake-ups alongside Ewan.

AUSTRALIANS AT THE 2024 GIRO D'ITALIA

Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Luke Plapp, Caleb Ewan, Michael Hepburn (Jayco AlUla), Simon Clarke, Nick Schultz (Israel-Premier Tech), Chris Hamilton (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL), Ben O'Connor (Decathlon AG2R Mondiale), Michael Storer (Tudor Pro Cycling Team).