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Pogacar in Giro world of his own as O'Connor dream dies

Perfect in pink, Tadej Pogacar has made it six stage wins to effectively rubber-stamp one of the grandest of Grand Tour triumphs, but Australian Ben O'Connor could only reflect on missing out on his Giro d'Italia podium dream.

Slovenian Pogacar was all but crowned a maiden Giro champ on Saturday in the 20th and penultimate stage, swooping across the line at Bassano Del Grappa like the Superman his teammates think he is.

All that's left is for Pogacar to proceed like an emperor into Rome on Sunday in the ceremonial final stage to seal victory by almost 10 minutes, completing one of the most dominant performances in the Giro's 107 editions.

"He's like Superman," said his chief lieutentant for UAE Team Emirates, Rafal Majka after once again shepherding Pogacar in the mountains until the 25-year-old decided to take off less than a third of the way up the second ascent to Monte Grappa and go on to decimate the field by two minutes, seven seconds.

Ben O'Connor
Ben O'Connor gave it his all but has had to settle for fourth in the GC. (AP PHOTO)

"We wanted the pink jersey from stage two, a lot of obligations every day, a lot of things to do all day. I wanted to finish the Giro with good mentality and good shape and I think I achieved that," the Slovenian smiled.

"I've never been in Rome before, but I'm going to enjoy it for sure!"

Behind him, the battle for the minor podium spots went on as a mere sideshow, with O'Connor having to accept the frustration of finishing fourth in the GC after he had set out as Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale team leader with high hopes of becoming just the fifth Australian to finish on a Grand Tour podium.

He came home eighth in the elite group far behind Pogacar, along with Colombian Dani Martinez, the runner-up elect, and birthday boy Geraint Thomas, who turned 38 by being able to celebrate extending his record, which he set last year, as the oldest man to finish on a Giro podium.

Perth's O'Connor has never been quite at his brilliant best on this Giro after a fine season, but has again battled admirably to be 1:43 behind Thomas in fourth on the GC, although, like the rest of a trounced field, he's in another world to Pogacar, some 12 minutes behind.

By winning in Rome on Sunday, Pogacar will set himself up for the possibility of becoming the first man since Marco Pantani in 1998 to complete the Giro-Tour de France double - and on this form, no-one would dare bet again him.

Pogacar
Pogacar hoists his bike aloft after his epic sixth stage win. (AP PHOTO)

His only concern looked to be the manically over-excited Italian fans on the mountainside passes who crowded and even touched him as he was trying to forge ever further clear. He even irritatedly appeared to gesture at one of them who attempted to give him a most unwelcome push. As if he needed it.

Pogacar is almost certain to win the mountains classification too, while Jonathan Milan (LidL-Trek) will take the points jersey in Rome as Kaden Groves and Caleb Ewan give it one last crack in Rome on Sunday to break Australia's stage-winning duck at this Giro.