EXACTLY 25 years and a day after his father, Philip, claimed his first yellow jersey in the FBD Insurance Rás, Mark Cassidy donned the yellow fleece for the first time in Lisdoonvarna after yesterday’s dramatic stage from Claremorris.
It was a historic day —not just for the Cassidy family but for the Rás itself — as the 23-year-old Dunboyne man took custody of the jersey from his An Post/Sean Kelly team-mate, Stephen Gallagher.
His illustrious father went on to win the overall title in 1983 and would come back to reclaim it 16 years later, amassing a total of 18 yellow jerseys in all as his son took little more than a passing interest in his achievements.
“I was involved in swimming and running at school and played football badly. I started racing at 16 or 17 just for he craic and I was always the first to be dropped,” he recalled yesterday as he sat close to the podium in Lisdoonvarna for 32 minutes as the time-keepers and race officials tried to separate him from English professional, Rob Partridge (Stena Rapha) with the help of the photo finish camera.
In the morning, Cassidy set out four seconds ahead of Partridge and both ended up in the group that chased stage winner, Chris Newton (Stena Rapha), and David McCann (Ireland National Team) all the way to the line.
Partridge finished fifth, 10 places ahead of Cassidy, and when all the available data was processed, the An Post rider was found to have a three second advantage.
This year he is contesting his fifth Rás, having finished just two. He finished third on the penultimate stage and was fifth overall last year when he took ill and had to abandon.
Whether he can emulate his illustrious father with a podium finish on the final day remains to be seen, but yesterday he stole the limelight from another two-time winner and former world track champion and Olympic silver and bronze medallist, Chris Newton, who outfoxed the 2004 winner, David McCann, to claim his 10th Rás stage victory.
This pair had escaped from the leading group which was controlled by Paidí O’Brien and his An Post team-mate, Benny de Schrooder, who were up defending Stephen Gallagher’s lead.
“We were told Mark (Cassidy) was coming across to us — Mark would have been the man for the jersey — and we were waiting for him but then, just as he was coming across, McCann and Newton slipped away,” O’Brien recalled. “We should have been with them but we still have the jersey and it is a long week.”
“The two from the Sean Kelly team were protecting their lead,” Newton said. “I kept going through — I was still working — keeping an eye out for Dean (Downing) who was second overall. We just came over this rise, I was on David McCann’s wheel. I saw him put his head down and I knew straight away what he was thinking. While they were waiting for the group to come up behind we just kept going and we got a gap really quickly.”
“When we joined up, Newton and McCann had left the group and I was a bit worried,” Cassidy said. “I was not thinking about the yellow jersey. I had been thinking about a stage win but that was not going to happen now. Then I recalled I had a minute and a half from yesterday so we decided to ride coming in the road. Nobody was willing to help so we made them ride.”
McCann and Newton worked well together driving over the first of the climbs — a category 3 — and then powering the cat 1 four miles from the finish.
“From the top it was still a tough ride to the finish because of the wind,” Newton said. “I knew the finish from three years ago — the sharp right turn — it kicked up quite steep so I just laid off Dave a little bit, ran at him and I knew I had a tail wind so it would be very hard for him to get back on the wheel.”
It was a good day for Ciaran Power (Pezula), one of the race favourites, who has been struggling with a cough all week. His attack resulted in the crucial nine-man break that would eventually become 18, but he missed the escape and ended up fourth.
“I feel I am getting better each day,” he said. “There was good racing today. For the last two days we had to do work for no reason and today we did not want to do that.”
Today’s fourth stage takes the race from Corofin to Tralee.
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