Ben O’Connor’s performance at the Tour de France this July was the best debut by an Australian rider ever in the 118-year-old race. The family celebrated the victory together in what Ben’s father, Opportunity Board member, John O’Connor, calls ‘a beautiful set of circumstances’.
Ben O’Connor secures the win on the summit of Tignes in Stage 9 of the 2021 Tour de France. Credit: Tim de Waele, Getty Images.
Opportunity: Congratulations on your performance, Ben! You must be so proud, John? Can you share a bit about the relationship between you?
Ben O’Connor: We’ve always been close. Dad came to all my football and cricket games and sports events. Sport was always a priority and dad was supportive of whatever I was doing. When I started bike racing, it was dad who took me to my first event.
John O’Connor: We are incredibly proud. All we’ve ever wanted was for our young people to do the best they possibly could.
Opportunity: When did you know you wanted to pursue bike racing, Ben?
BOC: I started racing after school in 2014. It was a few years later that I realised I could be good at it and bike riding could be a career. My pathway was different to many others, in that I didn’t go up through the Australian junior system, I kind of rocked up when I was 18.
Opportunity: What does it mean to you to have won a stage and finished fourth overall in the 2021 Tour?
BOC: When I went into the Tour I had done well in some races before, so I thought I could maybe make top 10. The Stage 9 win was great because you have that moment of crossing the line. But there is more pride and sense of accomplishment in the overall win. I’m overwhelmed, it’s a bit mind blowing!
Opportunity: There were some horrific crashes in the Tour, how did you push through?
BOC: In the crash on the first stage, I thought I had broken my shoulder, I was bleeding everywhere, I thought my race as over. When the road is narrow that’s when the big falls happen and the Tour de France is the worst for them. I didn’t want to leave after day one. It’s the biggest race in the world, when you’re in pain, you just think about getting to the end.
Opportunity: The Tour covered 3,414km of riding over 21 days, what was the toughest part?
BOC: Mont Ventoux was the most challenging part. After the cold of the Alps, it was 35 degrees and it’s a long climb. It’s was a long way of suffering!
Opportunity: What are some of the lessons your dad passed on that have set you up for success?
BOC: Do your best and stay humble. We didn’t take anything for granted growing up. Dad was a good example of leadership, and I took that role for some of the teams I was on.
Ben with John, mum Kathie, and fiancé Sarah, at the finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
Opportunity: John, talking about leadership, what drew you to the Board of Opportunity?
JOC: In the latter part of my career with PWC, I spent some time in India. Staying in expensive hotels eating three-course meals, it was jarring that 50m down the road there is abject poverty. I wanted to do something about this –and soon after I was introduced to Opportunity. I have had 10 years of wonderful experience on the Board.
The Opportunity model works. You’re not going to solve poverty with quick fixes. The transformative effect of working with people to improve the lives of their children is very motivating. Every parent wants to be able to help their child do the best they can. That resonates with me.
Opportunity: There is a generational thread in your story and Opportunity’s?
JOC: My parents came from very humble backgrounds and they instilled in me the desire to do my best always with the talents I had. My mum always saw the positive. She was a giver. She gave in death. The only reason we’re here in Europe is because of the timing of mum’s passing [we travelled to the UK for her funeral]. We see this as mum’s final gift to us; to be able to experience this achievement with Ben. She gave us the most wonderful gift on her passing.
Opportunity: Ben, have you been given an Opportunity that has changed your life?
BOC: Wayne Evans kicked my cycling career into gear. Wayne lives in Perth and runs a bike shop and a small team. He took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity to join the team and race in the National Road Series. He had so much faith in me, he was always saying, ‘you can make it one day’.
JOC: He is overjoyed with where Ben is today!
Opportunity: What does legacy mean to you?
BOC: A legacy is something for kids to strive for and achieve. Something that people don’t forget. I want to inspire people to be active and pursue their goals.
JOC: People are inspired by Ben’s success. With his previous team, Dimension Data Qhubeka, he was part of a program giving bicycles to school children in South Africa so they could get to school. That sense of purpose is important.
My legacy is to enable my own children to do the best they can, and through Opportunity, I work to help other parents do the same for their children.
If you’d like to explore philanthropy further, please contact Ben Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.