The Tirol Cycling man came into the stage two seconds clear of Matt Holmes (Madison Genesis) and Damien Shaw (An Post Chain Reaction) but as the latter pair were also in that front group sprinting for the win, there was no change in the race for yellow.
It means Fankheuser is still the man to beat heading into the penultimate day today - but he reckons the race is still wide open, given so many are within one minute of him on the overall standings.
“Today I have to thank my team for another great job,” he said.
“That’s three days in a row they have kept me in this jersey and I owed it to them today to stay in yellow.
“But tomorrow is going to be a massive day again and anything can happen when you have a category one climb so late in the day and in the week,” he added in reference to the climb of Mount Leinster that faces them tomorrow.
The 2014 winner looked utterly shattered after enduring another day of a relentless attacks and the man he cursed more than most was debutant Eddie Dunbar.
As soon as the flag dropped yesterday, the 19-year-old Corkman riding for Irish national team tore up the road.
To his relief, he was joined by two more in former Irish international junior teammate Daire Feeley (iTap) and Dylan Kennett (New Zealand) and together, that trio shared the workload as they surged up the road and out of sight.
Tirol and Madison Genesis controlled things admirably at the front of the peloton but when the leaders had a gap of 4’30” with some 50 kilometres to go the chasers began to drive the pace behind.
Kennett was dropped on the third and final climb of the day at Knockroe but at that point the peloton had broken into pieces and the main GC contenders were closing in on Feeley and Dunbar.
Alas, the catch was made and a brief ceasefire allowed three riders go clear with 20 kilometres to go. In there were former Team Sky man Josh Edmondson (NFTO), Tuesday’s stage winner James Gullen (Pedal Heaven) as well as Sunday’s stage winner Taco van der Hoorn (Join-S De Rijke).
Van der Hoorn only needed six seconds to take yellow, Gullen needed eight and Edmondson needed 17 and though they had 40 seconds on the bunch with 15 kilometres to go, a furious case from behind saw them regroup in the final kilometre.
And though Holmes looked well poised to take the sprint, it was Gate who just about got it from Brochner to cement his position as leader of the points competition. “Eddie went up the road early and I said I’d go for it,” said Feeley.
“One of the Kiwi lads came across and we worked well together to get the gap out to 4’30”.
“Then on that second climb at Rathcormac the bunch took time out of us like no tomorrow.
“The Kiwi blew up and we kept it going but the group with the yellow jersey brought us back real quick.
“On the last climb (Knockroe) I almost went out the back myself because I was absolutely swinging but I got back on over the top and just about came in with the front guys,” he added.
Today’s stage sees the riders tackle a 155-kilometre stage from Dungarvan to Baltinglass and there are four categorised climbs, including the category one ascent of Mount Leinster after 106 kilometres.
Meanwhile, Steven Kruijswijk lost the pink jersey in dramatic circumstances on yesterday’s 19th of the Giro d’Italia when he crashed on a descent and lost the three minute advantage he’d built up over Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge).
Descending the Colle Dell’Agnello the Dutchman overcooked a bend and was sent head-first into a snow drift at the side of the road.
His bike was damaged by the impact and the one he got from neutral service was also faulty so his chase amounted to nothing.
He would lose five minutes, with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) winning the penultimate mountain stage and Chaves coming second.
Chaves is now the race leader, Nibali second at 44 seconds and Kruijswijk third.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche was ninth on the stage and he moved up to 21st overall.