The An Post Rás burst into life yesterday as an Irish rider landed a first stage win of the week and the race for the yellow jersey was blown wide open.
21-year old rising star Matt Teggart wrote his name into Rás history with a brilliant win that saw him jump up to third overall and also take custody of the best young rider jersey while former Rás Mumhan winner Dennis Bakker from the Netherlands slipped into the race lead.
Teggart was overcome with emotion at the finish in Bundoran as the magnitude of his achievement hit him and it was an especially sweet victory for the team who announced last week they are without a sponsor for 2018.
“I’m absolutely delighted. The boys (Sean McKenna and Damien Shaw) rode an absolute blinder for me in the break today,” he said.
“The break was working very well together but with 40 kilometres to go we started attacking and all three of us (Shaw, Teggart and McKenna) got into the decisive move,” he said.
The decisive move was when the day’s 26-man break split in half approaching Bundoran, with the three An Post Chain Reaction men at the right side of it.
“From there we kept everything together and I tried to do as little as possible because I knew I had a decent sprint.
“The boys told me sit on and do as little as possible so they took us into the finish and made sure we didn’t get caught from a group behind.
“I kicked with 300 metres to go which is really very early but with a tailwind… I kicked and gapped them and they hadn’t enough room to come around me. I’m delighted.”
It was billed as a ‘transition’ day before the race heads for the true mountain tests in Donegal but yesterday’s 149-kilometre leg from Newport, Co. Mayo was anything but dull.
There were no categorised climbs but there was a hell of a lot of wind and on the open, exposed plains of the north-west coast the country’s only UCI-ranked race was blown to pieces.
Not five kilometres in and 2015 national road race champion Damien Shaw (An Post Chain Reaction) let rip with a blistering acceleration that only a handful were willing or able to match.
Eventually, after much reshuffling, attacking and counter-attacking a group of 18 riders broke free and proceeded to make their tailwind-assisted way towards Bundoran at speeds that often hit 50 kph.
In the escape were the An Post Chain Reaction trio of Shaw, Teggart and Sean McKenna, Anthony Walsh (Aqua Blue Academy), Jake Gray (Ireland National Team), Samuel Welsford (Australia National Team), Robert-Jon McCarthy (Britain JLT Condor), Troels Ronning Vinther (Denmark Riwal Platform Cycling), Mitchell Mulhern (Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam), Ziga Rucigaj (Slovenia ROG Ljubljana), Philip Lavery (Tipperary Panduit), Mitchell Webber (Britain Bike Channel Canyon), Elliott Porter (Britain Neon Velo Cycling Team), Jonas Jorgensen (Denmark Riwal Platform Cycling), Stephane Poulhies (France Armee de Terre), Dennis Bakker and Ike Groen (both Netherlands Delta Cycling Rotterdam) and Tilen Finkst (Slovenia ROG Ljubljana).
The yellow jersey of overnight leader Nicolai Brochner Nielsen missed the move but with a teammate in there (Vinther) he was happy enough to see it go up the road and by the 20-kilometre mark the gap was out to two and a half minutes.
The rough Mayo roads proved a perfect launchpad for more attacks and sure enough a group of eight got away and that featured Darragh O’Mahony (Ireland National Team), James Gullen (Britain JLT Condor), Ian Bibby (Britain JLT Condor), George Atkins (Britain Bike Channel Canyon), Morgan Kneisky (France Armee de Terre), Matic Groselj (Slovenia ROG Ljubljana), Simon Ryan (Cork Strata3/VeloRevolution) and Daire Feeley (Galway Team iTap).
That made it 26 out front who had a lead of over five minutes at one stage before the yellow jersey started to panic and he went to the front in an effort to limit the damage.
With most of the other teams represented in the break he got little help in his chase so it was a damage limitation exercise for him.
And by the time he crossed the line, Brochner-Nielsen had conceded almost three minutes and he dropped to 27th overall at 2’32”.
By that point, Teggart was already in celebratory mode then after playing the final few hundred metres to perfection. He darted up the right along the barriers and was not for catching, despite a very good sprint by Ian Bibby (JLT Condor Cycles) in second and Stephane Poulhies (Armee de Terre) in third.
He now moves up to third on General Classification just 22 seconds behind the new race leader Bakker (Delta Cycling Team) and the aforementioned Poulhies in second.
It was a good day too for Philip Lavery of the Tipperary Panduit team as he took sixth on the stage and is 9th on GC while Corkman Darragh O’Mahony improved his stock with seventh and he is now fourth on GC while Damien Shaw is 10th.
They are all at 22 seconds.
Tegggart had extra reason to celebrate as he is also the best young rider in the race ahead of O’Mahony.
Today’s stage takes the riders on a monstrous 151-kilometre journey from Bundoran to Buncrana that features five climbs and the leg-breaking Mamore Gap with 14 kilometres to go.
Meanwhile, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) cut the deficit to Giro d’Italia race leader Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) to just 31 seconds after taking advantage of a toilet stop by the latter on yesterday’s crucial 16th stage from Rovertt to Bormio.
Dumoulin pulled over for a natural break but instead of waiting, Quintana and a host of others attacked him and rode clear. They crossed the line over two minutes ahead and as a result, the GC standings are much closer heading into today’s 17th 219-kilometre stage from Tirano to Canazei.
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