A victory by Danish sprinter Mark Pedersen of the Blue Water Cycling team on stage four of the An Post Rás was overshadowed by an epic ride by An Post Sean Kelly rider Ronan McLaughlin yesterday.
The Donegal cyclist spent almost 70km out front alone before being caught 100m from the finish line in Bundoran.
Five years after the Rás last visited his home county, and just a day after crashing out and losing over three minutes on stage three, McLaughlin set about achieving his lifelong dream of a stage victory as soon as the flag dropped in Westport yesterday.
It took 10 attempts before he finally broke clear after 65km but a determined McLaughlin, based in Belgium, quickly settled into time trial mode as nearest chasers Chris Jennings (Britain Rapha Condor) and Sondre Hurum (Norway Oneco Mesterhus) lost any hope of catching him. He built up a lead of three minutes and 15 seconds over the rest of the peloton by Sligo with 35km remaining.
But the wind that helped him blaze along at 75kph in places, turned against him in the final 15km as the peloton, like hunters sensing a kill, closed in.
McLaughlin fought doggedly to hang onto his dream of a stage win but was cruelly denied within sight of the line.
“I was just so disappointed after losing time” said a disconsolate McLaughlin.
“I felt really good. I knew I was in really good form and kind of convinced myself that no matter what moved today, I’d be on it. I broke my racing bike yesterday and had my training bike with the power metre and all on it today.
“I tried to stay riding at 360 watts for as long as I could. I can do that in training no bother, but after four days of racing it’s not easy. Coming in the road it was so hard to keep going.
“I kept convincing myself to sprint once more, attack once more, but with 200m to go I couldn’t even get out of the saddle. I had nothing left. Even my arms were cramping.”
Eventual stage winner Pedersen was fresh as a daisy as he swept past for the win.
“It was close. I wasn’t sure if we could catch him,” said the 20-year-old from Copenhagen.
“There was a lot of crosswind and the pace was very high. I’m best in the wind and the flat stages so today was maybe my last chance to win a stage because we go to the mountains tomorrow.”
Swiss rider Pirmin Lang held onto his yellow jersey for a third day but is wary about today’s stage to Buncrana, which traverses the back breaking ascent of Mamore Gap.
“yesterday was supposed to be flat on the race book but it was pretty hard,” he said.
“Today, the race profile looks very hard, so I don’t know if we can keep the jersey in the mountains.”
David McCann was best of the Irish on the stage in fourth, with Dubliner Philip Lavery (Node4 Giordana) taking ninth, one place ahead of McLaughlin.
Aaron Buggle (Carlow Dan Morrissey Speedy Spokes) took his second county rider award after finishing 12th place on the stage but the French based rider is also apprehensive about what lies in store today.
“I didn’t think it was going to be so flat out yesterday, but straight away I knew it was going to be a day that you could get caught out and tried to stay up there,” said Buggle, who is currently fourth in the U23 classification, 28 seconds behind leader Richard Handley (Britain Rapha Condor).
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