On a day that, up until the final kilometres, looked earmarked for a mass bunch sprint into Kilkenny yesterday, Polish rider Marcin Bialablocki led a late four-man escape group across the line on Patrick Street to take stage victory and become the first overall leader of the 2012 An Post Rás.
After a succession of attacks had been reeled in on the tailwind-assisted stage, this lead quartet, which also included former winner Simon Richardson (Britain Sigma Sport), Dane Jacob Nielsen (Denmark Blue Water Cycling) and Swiss rider Nicolas Baldo (Atlas Personal) slipped away just outside Ballyragget, with around 15kms left.
Although the bunch were unwilling to allow them any more than a maximum of 25 seconds, the four ignored the chase behind and knuckled down to work well together on the run in to Kilkenny and held off the peloton by six seconds at the finish.
After a technical last 500m, Bialablocki showed his strength by holding off Nielsen to claim stage victory as Baldo took third ahead of Richardson two seconds later.
“I knew I had good legs, good form and I know that I am going well,” said Bialablocki, who took second in the prestigious Lincoln Grand Prix in England just before the Rás. “I’m not the best sprinter but I’m strong and I liked the finish. It suited my strength.”
Although he now leads the race by four seconds from Nielsen, Bialablocki says his Node4 Girodana team will not necessarily defend his yellow jersey on the road to Gort today. “It would be nice to hold onto this yellow jersey but it’s going to be very hard,” he admitted. “Whatever happens, happens. I’m not too worried about losing it.”
Peter Hawkins, a professional with the British-based Sigma Sport team where Richardson is a team-mate, was best of the Irish on the stage in seventh while Aaron Buggle of the Carlow Dan Morrissey team took the county rider award, crossing the line in 17th place.
Buggle would have added the white jersey for best U23 rider to his collection but for a slip up out the road that allowed Dubliner Philip Lavery (Node4 Girodana) garner a three-second time bonus at the Hill of Allen, 54km into the day’s 147km stage.
“To be honest, I didn’t know there was time bonuses out the road and that Philip picked up the three seconds towards the overall,” admitted Buggle.
“I’m not a sprinter by any stretch of the imagination but I just had a go and ended up getting up there. I came in just ahead of him on the stage and thought I had the U23 jersey but somebody told me Philip had won a time bonus so I’m a little bit upset with that but the county rider prize is not a bad start.”
Lavery too was happy at the stage end, his Node4 Giordana team having taken stage victory, the yellow jersey and the points jersey with Bialablocki, along with the King of the Mountains jersey with David Clarke, as well as his own U23 jersey.
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