The 27-year old from Yorkshire retained the yellow jersey thanks to the efforts of four teammates who sacrificed themselves on yesterday’s 132-kilometre climb-heavy journey to Donegal. The quintet were always present at the front of affairs yesterday and they patrolled matters expertly to protect their man.
“It was an amazing stage for me, I had to do so little,” said the JLT Condor rider.
“The lads just rode phenomenally for me. We had all four riding right up to 20 kilometres to go. We tried to neutralise the climbs by riding at a high tempo and that strategy worked.”
There’s still plenty of work ahead with two hard stages remaining but for Cullen it is looking good with Ike Groen (Delta Cycling Rotterdam) in second at 1’05” and multiple world track champion Cameron Meyer of the Australian national team a further 1’27” behind.
Best of the Irish yesterday was stage winner and yellow jersey wearer Matt Teggart of the An Post Chain Reaction team. He finished eighth on the stage in the same time as the winner, Yannis Yssaad, of the Armee de Terre squad from France. Yssaad led in a peloton of just 30 riders, edging Sunday’s stage winner Nicolai Brochner Nielsen (Riwal Platform) and Dennis Bakker (Delta Cycling).
It was promising from an Irish perspective that the aforementioned Teggart, Mark Downey (Irish national team), Sean McKenna (An Post Chain Reaction) and Daire Feeley (Galway iTap) were all up there fighting in the closing stages.
Damien Shaw leads the home challenge for the General Classification - he is fifth at 4’32” seconds, though feeling a little worse for wear after a hectic six days.
“It’s been a very good Rás for us so far,” he said of his An Post Chain Reaction’s team taking two stage wins and having a stint in yellow.
“You are expected to win a stage and not too many days go by without us getting something major out of the race. To have two stage wins is good and even the way GC is going there might be some space for more as well. I’m happy with the way I’ve been going. I haven’t missed much or the team hasn’t either. We’re racing aggressively and I’ve seen such a difference this year with the attacking mindset of guys. Guys are just really putting their noses in the wind and seeing good come from it.”
Ex-Irish junior and U23 international Philip Lavery (Carrick Wheelers, Panduit) continued his good week by being the first county rider across the line yesterday but it’s Daire Feeley who is currently the best overall in that particular category.
The aforementioned Bakker still leads the points GC while Michael O’Loughlin is the best U23 rider.
Kasperkiewicz Przemyslaw (An Post Chain Reaction) is the leader of the mountains classification.
Meanwhile Nairo Quintana (Movistar) wrested the race leader’s pink jersey from the shoulders of long-time leader Tom Dumoulin in the Giro d’Italia The latter, riding for Team Sunweb, was caught behind a crash early on and though he managed to regain contact with the main peloton he paid for his efforts on the final climb as Quintana rode away to claim victory.
Quintana moved into the pink jersey with two stages remaining (today and tomorrow) after putting a minute into the maglia rosa and he leads the Dutchman by 38 seconds, with Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) a further five seconds in arrears. Mikel Landa rescued Team Sky’s race with stage victory when he attacked his breakaway companions inside the final 10 kilometres with Rui Costa (UAE Emirates) and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) rounding out the top three.