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O'Connor targets Giro podium as Pogacar extends lead

Tadej Pogacar has extended his Giro d'Italia lead to over three-and-a-half minutes after another strong time trial while Australian hope Ben O'Connor has inched closer to the podium.

With the Giro set to head into the high mountains in a brutal third week, Pogacar took the opportunity to put his key rivals, including O'Connor, to the sword again on Saturday's 31km route from Castiglione delle Stiviere to Desenzano del Garda.

The only surprise was that the Slovenian master didn't grab a fourth stage victory on the circuit around Lake Garda, with Italian time trial king Filippo Ganna this time earning the stage-14 honours with his time of 35 minutes and 2 seconds proving 29 seconds quicker than runner-up Pogacar.

For the man in leader's pink, though, the only thing that mattered was picking up more valuable time over his nearest pursuers - another 45 seconds over Geraint Thomas, who's moved into second 3:41 behind, another 1:16 over Dani Martinez and another 56 seconds over Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale's O'Connor.

But O'Connor, who had a fine ride to finish seventh in the TT, has edged closer to the podium, still fourth overall but now only 39 seconds behind Colombian Martinez going into the Giro's key high battlegrounds.

"I don't think it actually felt amazing but I must have gone quickly because I saw the time was good, so happy days!" O'Connor told Eurosport.

Time trialling is not his forte but the man from Perth noted: "All year I've been good. I didn't really get the chance to prove it in the rain at Tirreno-Adriatico, so it's nice to see improvement."

The only question is whether it came at too much of a cost as O'Connor was left completely emptied by the effort afterwards as he lay exhausted on the ground.

Ganna
Italy's double world champion Filippo Ganna roared to victory in the time trial. (AP PHOTO)

Reflecting on the ordeal to come in Sunday's "Queen Stage" - the hardest in the race - featuring 5200m of climbing, he shrugged: "That will be in the front of my mind tonight, but right now I just want to have a shower, relax and just chill out."

It was also an impressive day for Australian national champion Luke Plapp, who came home fifth in the TT, clocking 36:20.

Pogacar had pipped Ganna on the seventh stage thanks to its demanding uphill finish, but he didn't have the same luxury on Saturday as the Italian double time-trial world champion delivered a brilliant ride at an average speed of 53.4kph.

"Today, I suffered a lot," Ganna conceded.

"I was just speaking with Jonathan Milan (the sprinter who's won three stages in this Giro).

"For him, it's just 70 seconds in the sprint and then you know immediately if you win or not. Today, I had to wait two hours after my ride to see if my time would be beaten."

It was Ganna's seventh stage win at the Giro but his first in three years.

"I'm a little bit blocked with emotions because to win in Italy after a lot of time without a win is a really intense moment. Especially here. Across the lake, it's like a second home for me," said Ganna.

With AP