One second is all that separates the yellow jersey wearer from his nearest challenger, Kerryman Sean Lacey (The Edge CC), while Christian Varley (Team Isle of man) is just 27 seconds from taking the overall lead following a dramatic weekend of racing.
Wouter Haan of Team Ruiter Dakkpallen Wielerteam had led the field going into Saturday’s 130km stage around Dingle and east Kerry and was expected to mount a serious challenge having finished seventh overall last year while riding in support of his colleague Wim Botman, who finished runner-up.
However, the promising young rider crossed the line over nine minutes in arrears of his team-mate Leon Burger after an epic stage that finished on the category 1 climb of the Conor Pass.
Burger claimed the stage but another of the highly-rated team, Imming, took the race lead.
The stage was marred by a dreadful crash at Dunquin Pier that took down more than 85 riders and resulted in several being hospitalised, although no serious injuries were reported.
The Dutch team currently have three men in the top 10, with Burger and Gijs Strating both within two minutes of Imming, and all three were very active on both days, giving Lacey and his team a tall order ahead of today’s final stage. But the Cork-based team aren’t about to give up the chase just yet.
“There’s no secret to what we’re going to try and do, it’s to try and shake him (Imming) off and that’s it,” said second placed Lacey.
“We need to get rid of him and the only way to do that is to try and get in a break again without him. It’s not going to be easy, of course, but it never is. We tried time and time again yesterday to shake him off, we got him by himself once or twice but we just couldn’t get rid of him.
“But he’s a good yellow jersey, he’s strong out and he has a strong team around him, he’s there on merit. Having said that, I’m feeling fresh now I have to say. Recovery has been very good so we’ll see how it goes.”
Lacey commended his team on their efforts to put him in a position so tantalisingly close to the overall win.
“In fairness to my team they’ve been great and given me great support. Timmy (Barry, last year’s winner) did good work for me yesterday so we’re well up for it. It’s going to be a hard stage but we’ll make it a hard stage and hope it can pay-off.”
With speeds averaging just over 40kph for over three hours of racing, yesterday’s stage will certainly go down as one of the most demanding in recent times with blistering temperatures also taking its toll on the field.
At the end of over three hours’ racing, the evergreen Paul Griffin was first of a 14-man group to the line, outsprinting Tino Hakmann of the West Frisia team and pushing himself up to seventh overall, while Rovert Jan Mol was third.
That group broke away from a fragmented peloton after 120km at the KOH after St Finian’s Bay and that group contained all the big guns.
Their lead at the front fluctuated between 30 and 50 seconds on the swift run-in to the finish, with several attacks coming from Barry and Griffin, before the latter edged the dash to the line ahead of the pack.
Today’s 114km concluding stage features two laps of the Killorglin, Fossa, Milltown circuit before the riders go onto the Donal McKenna circuit for 10 laps of the town of Killorglin.