Clemens Fankhauser became just the seventh rider in Rás history to win the race more than once yesterday, the Austria Tirol man riding into sun-baked Skerries adorned in the yellow jersey he claimed last Tuesday in Dingle.
If he was a popular winner two years ago, he was even more so this time despite getting the better of two of Ireland’s most well-liked and highly-regarded riders in Eddie Dunbar and Damien Shaw.
The latter two were fourth and fifth overall, 19 and 58 seconds down after arguably the best edition of the age-old race in recent times.
Fankheuser rode a textbook race since he climbed atop the overall standings, fending off attack after attack with the help of his incredible teammates all week.
Two seconds was all he had to spare on runner-up Jai Hindley (Australia national team) while his teammate Lucas Hamilton was 10 seconds further back.
It’s been anything but straight-forward for the 30 year-old who spent much of last Sunday night in hospital after sustaining severe road rash in a crash on stage one.
“I am so thrilled. It was a tough eight days,” he said after.
“I had a bad crash on the first stage and I was sore for a few days but my teammates worked hard for me and I hung on in the end.
“The reception and love I receive when I am over in Ireland is incredible.
“I just want to thank everyone for their support,” he added.
Yesterday’s stage was a real humdinger with riders inside the top 10 still with a realistic chance of a late smash and grab.
The aforementioned Dunbar and Shaw tried early on to escape but they were well-policed.
The big move featured Conor Dunne (JLT-Condor Cycles) who started 1’34” down but went three minutes up the road only to be reeled in.
Dunbar has been particularly outstanding this week and his stage win on Saturday was the biggest of his career.
He looked like he could have taken the yellow jersey from Fankheuser the way he was riding on the 155-kilometre stage from Dungarvan to Baltinglass but the race leader was too strong.
The pair were joined in a five-man move going over Mount Leinster by the Australian trio of Hindley, Hamilton and Michael Storer, with Dunbar getting the verdict in the finish from a sprint.
That result moved him from 14th to fourth overall, where he stayed following the conclusion of the race.
“Obviously I was under no pressure coming in,” said Dunbar of Saturday’s win.
“I put myself under pressure and a lot of people always expect big things from me but to come away with a stage win is nice, especially in my home country on front of my home crowd.
“I would have been really disappointed not to get the stage because I wasn’t doing as much of the riding as the others in the break.
“The Aussies were really keen to drill it to get away from the bunch so when we saw the finish I went as hard as I could in the last 150 metres and managed to get my hands up to celebrate. It still hasn’t sunk in.”
Irish manager David McCann said it’s been a huge week in Dunbar’s development.
“It couldn’t have went better for the (Irish) team,” said McCann.
“There were lots of crashes but the lads came through relatively unscathed. We went in with the objective of developing a couple of lads but I couldn’t believe how much they progressed from it.
“I think every one of them went away having achieved what we set out to achieve. hey got fourth overall and a stage win and that was a bonus.”
For the second successive year, Ian Richardson (Dublin UCD Fitz Cycles) rode superbly over the eight days and took home the best county rider award.
Jai Hindley (Australian National Team) held the Under 23 jersey from start to the finish and looks a real star for the future, while Aaron Gate (AN Post Chain reaction) won the green points jersey and Nikodemus Holler (Germany Stradalli Bike Aid) comfortably won the King of the Mountains classification.
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