The An Post-Chain Reaction team made it three wins in four days at the Rás yesterday on another wretched day that saw Ireland’s Martyn Irvine drop out of the overall contention.
New Zealand track star Aaron Gate took his second stage win of the race following a hellish 142km from Newport to Ballina but it was the battle for General Classification that generated most debate.
Irish interest very much relied on Ryan Mullen and Irvine after a difficult opening four days and both were well poised around the top of the standings yesterday morning.
But when the latter missed a crucial split early on and never managed to bridge across to the lead group of 18 riders his fate was sealed.
Mullen did manage to infiltrate the front cluster of riders and with a handful of other contenders they all worked very well to stay away and contest the finish.
Irvine, despite a phenomenal chase for the guts of an hour in conditions borrowed from winter, came within 10 seconds of getting across.
“It’s kind of bitter because we were so close to getting back on,” said a rueful Irvine.
“We had them at 10 seconds at one point, you could have hit them with a bottle but I just ran out of friends and at one crosswind they got organised up ahead and that was that. They were gone.”
Irvine had his full complement of teammates with him, but “very few” gave help with the chase.
“I had all the team working for me but that was it really.
“I was very lonely for a while, very few people came forward.
“We were so close to making that juncture,” he continued.
The Newtownards man said he prefers not to think about what might have unfolded had they bridged.
“I’m trying not to think about it. Shoulda, woulda, coulda…
“If we’d have got there I might have sealed my position overall for the weekend but who’s to know?”
For the reigning national road and time-trial champion it was a markedly different affair, however.
In his debut Rás, Ryan Mullen (An Post-Chain Reaction) played an absolute blinder, taking 13th on the stage but playing a key role in teammate Gate’s stage win, and moving up to third overall, 1’52” off the lead held by Austrian Luka Postlberger (Tirol Cycling Team).
It all happened when 18 riders broke clear early on and though their lead on a chase group hovered around 30 seconds for long spells it soon ballooned to over four minutes, with An Post Chain Reaction represented by four of their five men.
Also in the move, were county men Simon Ryan (Mego Racing Team) and Marc Potts (North Down Graham Powerhouse Sport) – some truly outstanding performances from them.
And among the leaders were all those men heading the main classifications (mountains, overall, U23 and points); underlining how hard the stage was, with the field battered by rain and wind.
Inside 25 kilometres to go and the race took the biggest turn of the week yet as the gap to the chase group extended further, all but ending Martyn Irvine’s chances of winning overall.
With 20 kilometres to go, the gap was 3:40 as the attacks from the front started; Mullen among those who were particularly aggressive.
However, Postlberger was doing his level best to keep everything together for another day.
Mullen went clear with 10k to go with Matteo Malucelli (Team IDEA) for company while Gate was always ready to counter any moves.
And that tactic worked a charm as Gate, Marco Tizza and Malucelli (both Team IDEA) got away inside 5k to go.
The trio began to look at each other approaching the final kilometres but it was Gate who got the jump and he powered his way up the finishing straight in Ballina to take the win, adding it to his victory on stage 2.
Tizza was second with Malucelli rounding out the stage podium, though the rest of the breakaway caught them on the line.
Simon Ryan of Limerick Mego RT was first county rider home. Mullen retained the U23 jersey while Ian Richardson retained the county rider jersey.
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