Victory went to Nico Graf and his Germany Thuringer Energy teammate, Tony Martin, took the race leader’s yellow jersey.
The 22-year-old Banteer cyclist was sitting pretty in second place on General Classification, 17 seconds behind the overall leader after a gruelling climb up the notorious Gap of Mamore where the battle for the pink jersey of the mountains leader was fought out in torrential rain.
Victory in this particular contest went to the young Dutch rider, Ricardo Van der Velde to claim the mountains jersey.
It was a fitting reward for the 20-year-old, whose early attack split the field to pieces. After just 15 kilometres there were six groups on the road with several single riders chasing positions.
The powerful USkodak Gallery/Sierra Nevada Beer team would eventually hand over the race leader’s yellow jersey, though Dominique Rollins had enough in hand to retain the green points jersey.
Van der Velde launched the first attack that would eventually develop into a 39-strong leading group and when they had put two minutes and 13 seconds into the remainder of the field, he attacked again.
He brought Graf, Paidi O’Brien, Jason Hegert of Australia, and another German, Yannick Teidt, with him and then proceeded to dominate all the King of the Mountain primes including Mamore Gap, where the group began to split.
Up to that point everyone was doing their bit. “We had a really good group there. Everyone was working,” the young Dutch rider said and he paid special tribute to Paidi O’Brien for his contribution.
“Then I thought I would get away to win the stage but the German caught me with 1,500m to go.”
Then O’Brien loomed up to contest the sprint into Buncrana, where he lost out by a mere second to the powerfully built Nico Graf, with Van der Velde third.
A new threat loomed when two-time winner Chris Newton chased down the leading group with assistance from Tony Martin; he is now poised to challenge for overall victory.
“We went into the race with a very young and inexperienced team,” the Stena Line/Recycling team manager, John Herety said. “It was unfortunate that we lost a minute early in the week but we were never going to be able to defend anything and the plan was to go into the last couple of days with a two minute deficit. Now we are just 1:02 behind.”
After chasing stage wins all week, O’Brien finds himself 17 seconds off the overall lead and was last night looking at the GC sheet with his Ireland Murphy& Gunn team manager, Kurt Bogoerts who looks after the riders at the Sean Kelly Academy in Brussels.
“Seventeen seconds is not an awful lot with three long days to go,” he said. “Now if you were wearing the yellow jersey with a 17-second lead you would be looking over your shoulder.
“But I will be talking to the manager tonight and we’ll be discussing the situation. Up to today I was only thinking about a stage win.
“The legs were really good today. When we got the group going I did not think it was so hard yet we were still putting a lot of time into the peloton. When I realised I was moving closer to the yellow jersey I began thinking about time rather than winning the stage. If I can recover tonight and have good legs again tomorrow I’ll be happy. If we have another bunch sprint between here and the finish maybe I can still get that stage win.”
Brian Kenneally and Paul Griffin were amongst those who lost time yesterday. Kenneally, who was second overall in the morning, came in with Rory Wyley from Dungarvan 2:22 down while Griffin was in a group 12 seconds further back.
David McCann finished sixth and moved up to eight place overall where he is separating young Mark Cassidy and Stephen Gallagher.
Tony Martin won a stage race last year in Germany but admitted that it will be very difficult to hold on to the yellow jersey here.
Today’s stage is the shortest of the week, 59.4 miles from Buncrana to Derry.