It was all change on the An Post Rás yesterday as a seemingly flat second stage delivered a new stage winner and another Irish race leader into Nenagh.
Overnight leader Conor Dunne had been active throughout the 160-kilometre trek from Longford to Nenagh and he managed to mark most of the moves on his own but when a 10-man breakaway slipped clear of a larger 30-strong lead group in the final 25km yesterday, Dunne found himself alone at the head of the chase again and this time fighting a losing battle.
“I was feeling good but it was always going to be tough to defend because it’s hard to ask so much of the boys,” Dunne said of his Tipperary Iverk Produce county team of domestic part- timers. “I felt I could do it if I just watched the groups and not let anyone get too far. A big group went and I had to ride, so I just went as hard as I could. I just rode and didn’t look back. I got across to them and then I was isolated on my own in that group and there was still 30km to go. It was tough to chase on my own trying to cover the moves. When the 10 guys went, nobody wanted to work with me and I just had to ride as hard as I could to try and bring it back. The Rapha team helped me towards the end, which I was thankful for, but we didn’t manage to bring the gap down enough.”
Alas, he lost the yellow jersey but he went down fighting.
Meanwhile, up front, An Post/Chain Reaction strong man Shane Archbold gave the team a first stage win of this year’s Rás — the Kiwi benefiting from a selfless lead-out from Irish teammate Sam Bennett to beat Marcin Bialablocki of the British Node4 Giordana team, Jasper De Buyst of the Belgian national squad and the other escapees 46 seconds ahead of the peloton.
“We got into the group with about 20km to go and we rode hard,” said Bennett. “I wasn’t feeling great coming to the finish and I knew Shane was good, so I said I’d lead him out. I went to the front for the last kilometre and left him on the front with 200m to go and he won. It’s great for the team to get a stage win here, in our home race and we’ll see how it goes now for the rest of the week.”
Fourth on yesterday’s stage, Peter Hawkins became new race leader yesterday, with a two-second lead over Archbold, Bialablocki and the next six riders on General Classification.
“When the group of about 30 came together I knew it was going to split again,” said Hawkins. “It was too big to roll to the finish like that so I just kept my eyes open. Archbold was in front and I just got across with Marcin and Bennett and a couple of other guys and we basically just rode for time. I knew there were strong sprinters there, so to get the stage was going to be hard in a sprint. I tried to get away a couple of times in the last few kilometres but we got brought back, but to have the yellow jersey in my home race is massive. It’s probably the biggest day of my career really.”
Another Irishman, Connor McConvey, riding for Azerbaijan-registered Baku Synergy team finished fifth on the stage and the recent King of the Mountains winner from the Tour of Azerbaijan will be looking forward to the mountains later in the week.
Dunne had some consolation in pulling on the jersey for best county rider yesterday while De Buyst now leads the U23 category. Archbold holds the green points jersey while Frazer Duncan of the Dublin Eurocycles squad was best county rider on the stage, finishing in 17th place.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved