Stage one of the 2018 Rás Tailteann began under dry skies yesterday in Drogheda with the ceremonial start taking place from St Peter’s Church.
The field then embarked on a relatively flat 136km stage to Athlone, where Swiss rider Cyrille Thiery broke clear with 1km to go and held off the chasing pack to claim victory.
There was a minutes silence held before the start in memory of long-term Rás volunteer and stalwart Gabriel Howard, who was tragically killed in a farming accident in February.
When the flag dropped at 12.30pm, the 155 riders were in no mood to hang around — the peloton hit speeds of 65km/h as they passed Newgrange after 3km.
The speeds remained high and were comparable to a fast stage of the Tour de France — with the Rás riders covered 44.7km in the first hour of that opening stage.
Despite a flurry of early attacks, the decisive move of the day came just after the 50km mark when 10 riders muscled their way clear of the main bunch. Among them were two Irish riders — Jake Gray (Team Ireland) and Damien Shaw (Holdsworth Pro Cycling).
Gray, just 20-years old is in his first Rás and was clearly keen to make an impression from the starting gun.
Shaw, 33, is a former Irish National Champion from 2015 and is currently riding in the UK on a full time basis.
They were joined by Robbe Ghys (Belgium), Dexter Gardias (Canyon Eisberg) and William Harper (St Piran Elite).
Also present were Luuc Bugter and Jason van Dalen (Delta Cycling X), Claudio Imhof and Cyrille Thiery (Switzerland) and Benjamin Wolfe (Jelly Belly Maxxiss).
The group built-up a maximum advantage of two minutes before the main pack decided to give chase and reduce the gap.
Notable absentees from this front group were the powerful German outfit,Team Bike Aid, who were forced to give chase back in the peloton. The strong pace set by the Germans caused the bunch to stretch and put many riders out the back of the main field.
As the gap dwindled to under a minute, the remnants of the breakaway began to attack one another.
As the front group passed under the 1km to go banner, Swiss rider Thiery broke clear. The 27-year old was too strong for his companions and had time to throw his hands in the air to celebrate in front a big crowd in Athlone.
The stage podium was rounded-out by Dutchman, Luuc Bugter and Belgian rider Lobbe Ghys.
The first county rider home was Matteo Cigala of the Viner-Pactimo-Caremark team.
Stage two will be the first test for Thiery in defence of his yellow jersey. After starting in Athlone and racing through Ferbane and Cloughan, the riders will begin the first category two climb of this year’s race at Bike Park.
From there the route takes the riders through Cloughjordan and Nenagh, with the category three pairing of Dolla (after 88km) and Silvermines (92.1km) following.
Those are the final categorised climbs of the day, with flat to undulating roads taking the riders through Hollyford, Cappawhite, Doon and Moynard prior to the finish in Tipperary.
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