Pogacar homes in on Giro glory as Aussies hunt podium

The Giro d'Italia already looks to already be locked up by the incredible Tadej Pogacar after his dazzling time trial triumph - but in the battle for the other podium spots, Australian Ben O'Connor has made a dramatic move into fourth place overall.

On a fine day for the Aussie challenge, O'Connor's compatriot Luke Plapp, the national road race and time trial champ, also impressed on Friday's seventh stage, moving to fifth following the 40.6km race against the clock between Foligno and Perugia.

But they were just support acts to yet another glorious solo display from Slovenian Pogacar, who won his second stage in six days to move two minutes 36 seconds ahead of Colombian Dani Martinez (BORA-hansgrohe) in the standings.

His latest demonstration of utter superiority on a route that culminated in a tough six-kilometre ascent means that before the first week of the three is even over, the remarkable 25-year-old Giro debutant already seems sure to prevail, barring a calamity.

Ben O'Connor
Perth's Ben O'Connor has moved up to fourth in GC at the Giro. (AP PHOTO)

"After the world championships last year, today was my first race on the TT bike again," explained the UAE Team Emirates phenomenon.

"I started a bit with an easier pace and had to get used to the TT bike and then I paced myself until the climb and then went full gas so I'm super happy with today.

"I knew the climb suited me and that was my advantage especially as it was quite steep."

Ineos Grenadiers' Italian time trial ace Filippo Ganna had looked on course for victory after clocking 52min 01sec and Pogacar was still behind after the second intermediate checkpoint, but he made light of the climb to Perugia to cross the line 17 seconds quicker in 51:44.

It earned him huge gains over his nearest pursuers. Having started the day 46 seconds clear, Pogacar moved 2:46 clear of Ineos Grenadiers' Geraint Thomas, considered perhaps his main threat for victory.

For O'Connor, though, 11th place on the stage, 2:07 slower than Pogacar, was enough to elevate him seven places to fourth in the GC standings, just 47 seconds behind third-placed Thomas.

It helped make up for a trying start to the Giro for the 28-year-old Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale rider.

On the second stage, O'Connor had chastised himself for trying to follow a Pogacar attack in the mountains which ended up with him going into the red and losing valuable time. "I was probably the dumbest guy in the race," he shrugged afterwards.

Team Jayco AlUla's Plapp, who was seventh quickest in the time trial, moved up to within nine seconds of O'Connor and grabbed the white jersey as the race's leading young rider.

"A super-nice day," said the 23-year-old. "I haven't had the best TTs in Europe since I started my professional career, so I'm happy. The white jersey too. It's a perfect first week of the Grand Tour for me."

Pogacar will doubtless try to pile on the pressure further as the race hits the high mountains in Saturday's punishing eighth stage, which ends with a brutal climb of more than 14km to Prato di Tivo after the 152km grind from Spoleto.