For the second time in the last five editions of the race, the little-known Tipperary County team has outwitted the big guns to produce a stage winner at the An Post Rás.
In 2009 it was an 18-year-old Sam Bennett who upstaged the more established riders and yesterday, the Iverk Produce backed team saw their U23 national time trial champion Conor Dunne blast up the road with 20km remaining in the 136km stage and then outsprint his breakaway companion Michael Northey of the British Node4 Giordana pro team to claim the biggest victory of his young career.
Dunne, who is usually based in Belgium as an amateur, was active throughout yesterday’s opener, infiltrating two dangerous moves on the road to Longford before finally escaping with Northey in the closing kilometres.
“I wasn’t feeling too great after we got caught the second time, but later on my legs started feeling good and I followed a few moves with about 20km to go,” said Dunne afterwards.
“Northey went and I went after him. I didn’t think anything was going to come of it but the gap went up to a minute and I was feeling really, really good. We were working really well together and my legs just came around. The gap was still a minute with 3km to go, inside a kilometre to go and my legs were just so good, I just believed in myself. I’ve been in Belgium the last two seasons riding a lot of hard races, chipping away. I’ve been going well this season but just didn’t get the luck. My team kept saying that it just needed to come together and I’d get a good win. I let him (Northey) lead it out and knew I had the jump and I got my win today. I’m so happy. It feels so good to win this.”
With a four second advantage over Northey, Dunne now finds himself in the dream position of leading the Rás overall as a county rider, although his Tipperary team of domestic amateurs may not have the firepower to protect his lead for very long. It’s not something he is worried about, however.
“I’ve got good legs but this stage win has made my Rás,” admitted Dunne. “I just want to enjoy this now. I’m still going to be aggressive. You have to ride aggressively in this race. That’s what suits me. It’s tough but I really, really enjoy it.”
Dunne also leads the points and U23 rider classification while Martin Hunal (Czech Sparta Prague team) leads the King of the Mountains.
Behind Dunne, another county rider and former stage winner, Mehall Fitzgerald of the Visit Nenagh team, announced his return to the race with ninth on the stage and will wear Dunne’s best county rider jersey tomorrow as the Tipperary man lines up for stage two (160kilometres) to Nenagh in yellow.
Meanwhile, in the Giro d’Italia, Movistar’s Giovanni Visconti claimed yesterday’s 15th stage atop the snow-capped Col du Galibier.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) retained the race leader’ s pink jersey, easily nullifying all attempts to threaten his race lead. He leads Cadel Evans (BMC) by one minute and 26 seconds.
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