Eoin Morton claimed one of the most remarkable stages of the An Post Rás for many a year yesterday when he edged erstwhile breakaway man and fellow county rider Bryan McCrystal (Louth ASEA/Wheelkworx) at the end of a nail-biting journey from Multyfarnham to Charleville.
The 27-year old UCD-Fitzcycles.ie man came into the 183-kilometre stage as leader of the King of the Mountains classification and though his stated aim was to preserve his advantage in that, he got a lot more than he bargained for.
The pair attacked the peloton with 100 kilometres still to race and immediately pulled out a gap on the field as they buried their heads and got down to work.
Incredibly, their advantage swelled to over seven minutes as the team of overnight leader Taco van der Hoorn (Join S-De Rijke) eased up the chase, contented that two unknown amateurs would surely never last the distance when the pace ramped up.
But when the leaders still had five minutes with 50 kilometres remaining, the team of the yellow jersey – amongst others, began to panic and upwards of four teams went to the front to drive a furious pace which split the peloton in half.
Clearly, they were unaware of the calibre of those out front; Morton, a teacher from Swords, won the VisitNenagh Classic last month and McCrystal, a jeweller from Dundalk, is the national duathlon and Ironman champion.
They pressed on and at 16 kilometres to go, they still had a healthy lead of two and a half minutes.
And 10 kilometres later, the likes of the New Zealand Olympic track team, An Post Chain Reaction, and JLT-Condor Cycles only chipped 50 seconds off the advantage, meaning the impossible was about to happen before a huge crowd in the Cork town.
McCrystal was riding into the yellow jersey as he started the day 23 seconds down on Van der Hoorn and both were chasing a first ever Rás stage win.
Alas, it would be Morton who had more in reserve as the road kicked slightly upwards before the line and he injected the slightest acceleration to shrug off McCrystal.
And McCrystal was left utterly dejected when the bunch – with the yellow jersey - followed him in seven seconds later, meaning he lost out on yellow by 16 seconds.
“I think it’s just fantastic for county riders,” said a very emotional Morton afterwards.
“We’re always billed as the underdogs in this race and I guess we are because when this race finishes I’ve to go to work on Monday at 9 o’clock to teach some kids.
“I’m speechless, I can’t believe this moment is happening me. I’m on cloud nine, cloud nine. I feel really bad for Bryan because I thought he’d take the yellow jersey and it’s super disappointing he didn’t.
“I thought he had more in him, he attacked with 10 kilometres to go and went full gas and I really struggled to follow him but we agreed to just ride to the finish and fight it out then because we knew if we started faffing around we’d get caught.
“What an outstanding achievement it would have been for a county rider to be in yellow; that’s so much more than winning a stage, in my opinion,” added a very humble Morton.
For McCrystal there was only regret and disappointment.
“I’m proud of myself but obviously bitterly disappointed to come so close.
“But I have no complaints, the best man won and he deserved it the way he rode.
“We know each other inside out, we know each other’s strengths and I’d need to be on a super day to get rid of him.”
Van der Hoorn still leads overall from New Zealand’s Dylan Kennett six seconds back. Behind him is the Danish rider Rasmus Mygind (Roawl Platform) while Irishman Jack Wilson (An Post Chain Reaction) is a fine fourth at 13 seconds.
Conor Dunne and Eddie Dunbar are the two other riders in the top 10 overall.
Today’s stage takes the riders from Charleville to Dingle and there are two categorised climbs, the latter being the first category one ascent of the Conor Pass.
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