The Namibian, whose mother’s father was Irish and whose father’s family left Yorkshire in the 1800’s, will go into today’s second stage to Carrick-on-Shannon wearing the yellow jersey on a UCI tour for the first time.
He has a slender seven second lead over Mark McNally from Liverpool who rides for the An Post/Sean Kelly team after fighting out an exciting two-man sprint along Clanbrassil Street.
It was a fitting finish to a 92 mile stage from Dunboyne that saw an eight-man breakaway group escape outside Fairyhouse Racecourse – less than 15k from the start – and then leave the field spread eagled.
Two crashes in quick succession broke concentration in the bunch and for most of the day there were up to five separate groups on the road with a string of stragglers struggling for survival.
And it Craven, winner of the Shay Elliott Classic in Bray on his last visit to Ireland, who was mainly responsible for the carnage because he was the driving force behind the break.
He had been a late arrival in the group – joining Kit Gilham (Britain Sigmasport Specialised), Michael Singer (Austria Arbö KTM-Gebrüder Weis), David Pell (Australia Drapac Porsche), Mark McNally, Masaaki Kikuchi (Japan – Nippo), Alexander Wetterhall (Sweden – Team Sprocket Pro) and another late arrival, Andrew Roche (Motorpoint Marshalls Pasta) from the Isle of Man who won the race in the Kerry jersey 13 years ago.
“The strongest teams were represented,” Craven said. “Everyone worked well together. We were quite lucky in that way. It was a strong and a good breakaway. I knew with 45 km to go we would stay away.”
It was obvious Craven was the strong man in the break as he mopped up the bonus seconds in the primes and took the points to put him into the King of the Mountains jersey.
On the last climb – The Long Woman’s Grave – some 25k from the finish he attacked but, to his surprise, he was joined by David Pell from Australia and for a brief moment it appeared as if they might stay away.
“We were only two guys and there were six guys behind us which wasn’t really ideal because – we did not really stand a chance with 25 kilometres remaining. They caught us again and it was back to an eight man group. I had not really wanted that but in the end it worked out perfectly.”
Mark McNally was regretting not being more positive when he escaped from the eight-man group along with Alexander Schadlich. They stalled and Craven came through and then when he passed Craven again he came around to win the sprint.
“But I am pleased, second overall is a nice place to be. It is a long race and it is still only the first day,” he said..
” My form is good, I am in better shape than I was last year. I would like to take at least a stage win and the overall is also in the back of my mind.”
Craven also leads the points and mountains classification going into the second stage while Mark McNally is the leading under-23 rider.
Adam Armstrong (Ireland Subway National Team) was the first Irish rider yesterday in 18th place while young Philip Lavery (Dublin Murphy & Gunn Newlyn) was the first county rider in 25th position.