After an action-packed opening stage around Killarney, Farranfore, up Sliabh Mish and into Killorglin, a ferocious three-man sprint settled the day.
Rabou, who recently won the Tour of Siam, won the stage from former winner Brian Kenneally (MyHome.ie/Cycleways.com), whose gears slipped, with 1997 FBD Insurance Rás winner, Andy Roche (Murphy & Gunn/Newlyn Group) in third.
The unsung hero was Páidí O’Brien (Martin Donnelly/Sean Kelly), who missed the break on the climb from Farmer’s Bridge to Sliabh Mish but produced a magnificent solo ride to catch a breakaway group.
O’Brien would eventually win the sprint for fourth place to put himself in contention after the Munster challenge had been decimated in a 40mph crash approaching the turn-off for Sliabh Mish at The Earl of Desmond Hotel. Former winner Eugene Moriarty, Timmy Barry, Michael Hennessy and Kealan O’Connor all came down in a 25-man pile-up 20 miles from the finish. Moriarty and O’Connor were hospitalised.
There had been a succession of attacks from the time the 104-strong peloton left Killorglin in glorious sunshine and when Colm Bracken launched a solo effort on the wide road to Tralee the pace increased.
“I saw Kealan O’Connor’s foot come out of the pedal but there was nothing I could do,” Moriarty recalled in hospital in Tralee. “Seven guys hit me before I stopped counting.”
With the Dutch team and Murphy and Gunn at the front, the field split on the climb and, suddenly, there was a group away that included three riders from the Netherlands, last year’s winner John Dempsey, Andy Roche, Bryan Keane and O’Brien.
They left a chasing group hanging at 20 seconds with the main field 47 seconds down approaching Milltown, where the battle for stage victory was launched.
“I was lucky because my team had three in the group,” Rabou said. “We had been waiting for Sliabh Mish and we kept it very fast. Three of us got away going into the last kilometre and I felt strong on the hill. I like climbing so I am looking forward to tomorrow.”
“My gears slipped on the hill so I lost momentum,” Brian Kenneally said. “The last time we came over that particular route I also finished second after I got away with Kevin Dawson.”
Today’s 105 mile stage (11am) takes the riders to Valentia Island before tomorrow’s individual time trial in Killorglin and an afternoon criterium in Caherciveen.