SOME years ago Sean Kelly discovered a young Lithuanian riding in Belgium and told Kurt Bogaerts, Manager of the An Post/Sean Kelly team, to watch out for him.
This year Bogaerts signed him and yesterday, 25-year-old Gediminas Bagdonas was resplendent in the coveted race leader’s yellow jersey at the end of the third stage of the An Post Rás in Castleisland.
“Sean (Kelly) noticed him when he was in Belgium and told me to watch out for him and I did because Sean is never wrong,” the Belgian said. “He won the stage yesterday (Monday) and he just raced for it today (Tuesday). It is nice to see an aggressive rider taking something home.
“We are happy to take the jersey even though it is a bit early in the week but we have a strong team. We came here to do something. We won the stage yesterday (Monday) and now we have the yellow jersey so it’s already a big success.
“You have a lot of opportunities here. We will look at the Classement (General Classification) tonight and see what we can do. We will decide our tactics. I will still keep Mark Cassidy and Ronan (McLaughlin) in mind and Sam (Bennett) can take a stage because he is growing in confidence all the time.
“But today is really nice — the way the guy raced — it’s nice to see aggressive riders rewarded. He did most of the work in the breakaway so the other guys were a little bit fresher on the climb.”
Going into today’s 88 mile fourth stage from Castleisland to Castletownbere, Bagdonas holds a one minute and 16 seconds advantage over yesterday’s stage winner, Nikolay Mihaylov (France AVC Aix en Pro) and Ukranian, Oleksandr Sheydyk (also in a tie for second). The latter pair escaped from the leading group on the Category 1 climb at Cragg Cave, with Peter Williams (Britain Motorpoint) leading the remainder of the break in some 15 seconds behind.
Mihaylov, a 23-year-old from Svelingrad, Bulglaria, who joined the French team this year, claimed his third win of the season and afterwards threw down the gauntlet, insisting the 1:16 advantage might not be sufficient going into the second half of the week.
“I am very happy with the win,” he said. “I was good today — good legs — I waited for the last climb and I attacked there.
“I am looking forward to the climbs — I am waiting for the climbs. I am 1:16 from the yellow jersey and I would hope I can pull it back but it is a difficult race.”
Gediminas Bagdonas admitted that yesterday’s steep Cragg Cave climb did not suit him. “It was a hard, steep climb and that is not my speciality,” he said. “Tomorrow will suit me better.”
With overnight leader, Shane Archbold of the New Zealand National Team, languishing in the bunch some seven minutes back the scene was set for yesterday’s finish when a leading group of 15 riders was established at the front, including Bagdonas (who was just a few seconds off the lead), 2009 winner, Simon Richardson, and three Irish riders, Derek Finnegan (Meath Stamullen Martin Donnelly), Simon Kelly (Meath 53 Degrees North Optimun) and Patrick Clarke (Mayo Western Edge Medical Comm).
Clarke has been based in Belgium for the past year and produced a terrific to ride to land the county prize.
They were joined by two more riders, Pete Williams (Britain Motorpoint) who would finish third in Castleisland, and Kohei Uchima (Italy D’Angelo & D’Antenucci).
They crossed the finish line for the first time intact but the main bunch were back together after splitting earlier in the day and had closed the gap to 3:07 when Kerryman Paul Griffin led them out for the Cragg Cave climb.
Finnegan, who was third on a stage back in 1999 and won the final stage of this year’s Tour of the North, tried desperately to keep the leading group together but Mihaylov’s attack on the climb shattered that to pieces.
“I was working hard in that group all day and that last climb took it out of my legs,” the Meath rider said.
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