The sinuous, switchback-laden ascent of Glengesh Pass was always destined to play a big role in this year’s An Post Rás, and by the time the riders reached the base of the climb after 100km of racing on yesterday’s stage six, it was beginning to look like there would be a new man in yellow by the finish in Killybegs yesterday.
As a three-man lead group of Frenchman Remi Sarreboubee (AVC Aix en Provence), Fredrick Johansson (UK Youth) and 2009 race winner Simon Richardson (Sigma Sport) began to tire and were reeled in as the road began to rise skywards, there was no sign of overnight leader Nicolas Baldo of the Swiss Atlas Personal team. The young Frenchman was at the back of the race, frantically making his way back up through the cavalcade having been forced to stop at the side of the road with a puncture 4km earlier.
With the help of a team-mate though, Baldo floated up through the peloton, passing the shell shocked county riders first and then some of the former race contenders before cresting the summit in a large chase group, just 20 seconds behind a new set of breakaways including Irishman Conor McConvey (An Post), Dane Lasse Hansen (Blue Water Cycling) and British pro Dave Clarke (Node4 Giordana), whose climbing prowess would see him take over as King of the Mountains by the stage end.
Despite numerous attacks on the run-in to Killybegs, from two-time Rás winner David McCann (RTS Racing), Norwegian Krister Hagen (Oneco Mesterhus) and then Ryan Sherlock (Tipperary Iverk Produce) and McConvey again, it looked like the stage would be settled in a 30-man sprint to the line as the group hit the outskirts of the town.
Astonishingly though, race leader Baldo attacked the leaders with just 3km of racing left and as the rest of the race looked on in a mixture of surprise and awe, opened up a gap of 10 seconds to win the stage and strengthen his grip on the yellow jersey.
“It was kind of a case of ‘Who’s going to do the chasing?’” said McCann, who had several attempts to go clear before having to settle for sixth in the sprint. “The Swiss have three good guys there and there was a wee bit of hesitation among us and he was committed. He’s strong but nobody really took the initiative to go after him.
“At the same time, An Post did all the work for them earlier in the stage, so unless you’re prepared to take a gamble and tire them out, they’re going to finish as strong as they finished today. I think when the jersey went, some guys’ legs were tired from chasing me and they couldn’t chase the jersey.”
Behind the stage winner, Hagen took second place ahead of Dublin Eurocycles rider Adam Armstrong, a magnificent result for the amateur county rider.
“I’m very pleased,” said Armstrong, who spends his working week on the night shift in his local Tesco. “I thought with the group coming in the road, I’d have a chance. Unluckily, the jersey attacked. Otherwise I might have got second. But third on a stage of the Rás, I cant believe it.”
Race leader Baldo was delighted to add a stage victory to his two days in yellow. “It was really nice to win after having to fight to come back,” he said. “It’s crazy, 3km from the end, I didn’t think about anything. I just attacked to see what would happen. I saw I had a small advantage and there was a little uphill. I pushed it 100% and it was incredible.”
Although Baldo strengthened his position yesterday, while he remains just 13 seconds clear of Thomas Rostollan (France Aix En Provence), 17 seconds ahead of Czech Martin Hunal (Sparta Prague) and with 39 seconds covering the first 10 riders on this Rás, he admitted he is still worried about letting it slip.
“I’m already very satisfied to take a stage victory here. Now it’s a bonus to stay in yellow but the gap is so small, nothing is safe. Everybody is dangerous now,” he said.
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