The notorious mile-long climb that was once graced by local stars like Sean Kelly and former Rás great, Bobby Power, who was on the summit to greet the riders provided the first major climb of the week for a peloton that took another battering at Emly, Ireland’s Tidy Towns winner, where a major pile-up resulted in four riders being brought to hospital in Clonmel – three with broken collarbones – and detached another 60 riders from the main bunch. As a result the last group arrived at Seskin Hill 35 minutes behind the stage winner.
The crash will put a strain on the Austrian rider, Josef Kugler (Arbo KTM-Gebruder Weis), who admitted that the loss of one of his team mates, Lars Pria, who broke his collarbone, could have an effect on his bid to wipe out the eight-second margin that separates himself and Wetterhall.
“I think I can still do it,” said Kugler after finishing third behind Tiernan-Locke and Peter Williams (Motorpoint Marshalls Pasta) on Seskin Hill. “The next two stages are very hard and I think I can do it. I can climb – I finished third today – but we have a team mate with a broken collarbone so we have just four guys. I like the mountains.”
As the 97 mile stage from Tipperary Town reinforced the log jam at the top of the General Classification sheet, Kugler cut his deficit to eight seconds and Peter Williams took a big leap up to third place, 59 seconds off the lead while the big threat going into today’s stage to Gorey could come from the Aussie, Jack Anderson, riding for the Swedish team who was runner up to Cameron Meyer in the Australian time trial championships and now lies just 1:28 off the lead in fourth place ahead of fellow Australian, David Pell (Australia Drapac Porsche) who was involved in every attack yesterday and moved up to fifth @ 1:34 with the first Irishman, Connor McConvey (Belgium An Post/Sean Kelly), dropping a place to sixth at 1:45.
Yesterday An Post/Sean Kelly again had two riders in the break with Mark Cassidy, whose father Philip won the race twice, fourth up the hill and Pieter Gyllebert, who was third into Tipperary, in fifth position.
One of the amazing things about yesterday’s performance was that An Post, and David O’Loughlin in particular, again did most of the chasing despite having two men away in the break, giving the yellow jersey an armchair ride for much of the stage although they could argue that they were trying to keep Mark McNally in touch. He has dropped from second overall on Sunday to 16th with a deficit of 3:36 to make up.
The race leadership changed for a time on the road when a 20-strong break that included Josef Kugler went 3:40 clear of the main bunch. When this lead was reduced to just over a minute and a half the break split and Kugler, Jon Tiernan-Locke, Mark Cassidy, Peter Williams, Tobyn Horton (Sweden – Team Sprocket Pro), Marc Ryan (New Zealand), Pieter Ghyllebert, David Pell and Bastian Burgel (Germany Thuringer Energie) went forward to fight out the finish “I was nervous when the bunch began to close up on us,” said Tiernan-Locke who hails from Plymouth and had a win in the UK and another in America coming into the race. “I was forced to do a lot of the riding because the pace was dropping so I thought I might be a bit tired coming to the hill but it was so steep nobody could sit on your wheel.
“There were seven of us together coming to the hill. I neutralised a few attacks and then I got on the front. It thought it might be too early but it was so steep I thought I’d just go for it and not look back until I’d drop them. I’m still in yellow but I wasn’t 15ks ago,” Wetterhall said afterwards. “I thought I might lose it. I did not know the KTM guy, Josef Kugler, up there but we had Jack Anderson as well so I was pretty satisfied with the situation. It is close but I think eight seconds is enough to hold on for tomorrow. I like hills and the hilly days are coming. I’ll see if the legs are with me.
“I recovered pretty well for today and I hope I will recover for tomorrow as well. My legs are really good. My team is strong as well, everyone is in good form and in good shape.”
As a mountain bike racer he had a number of good results including fifth in the European U-23 championships and he won a bronze medal in the team relay. I have had some good results at mountain biking but I would really like to see how good I can be at road racing,” he said.
Today’s 79 mile stage takes the riders from Carrick-on-Suir to Gorey with a series of Category 3 climbs punctuated by the Category 1 climb at Corabutt Gap outside of Bunclody.