Swede sweeps to stage win

TOMMY EVANS retained the Rás leader’s coveted yellow jersey but the Banbridge man, who won the title in 1996, insisted yesterday’s windswept 117-mile stage from Roscrea to Clifden was the hardest of his career.

“I certainly never experienced anything like it before. The rain was so cold it was just incredible,” Evans said as he clung on to his slender four-second lead over the impressive young Dane, Ari Hojgaarde. “And there was absolutely no protection from the cross-wind once we hit Galway.”

Stage victory went to 20-year-old Swede Jonas Holmkvist, who won the sprint into Clifden from Assan Bazayev of Kazakhstan with South African Ian McLeod in third ahead of Keith Gallagher for the Kildare North team and defending champion Ciaran Power.

But it was a somewhat damp finish in keeping with the day’s proceedings and, almost an hour later, officials were still waiting for the remnants of the bunch decimated by the conditions. In fact, the main group of riders only came in 15 minutes after the winner crossed the line and the end of the gruelling marathon.

There were several attacks early on ­ some of them promising. One of those involved four Irish riders, Ray Clarke and Eddie O’Donoghue from Clonmel, riding for Meath Lee Strand and Dublin Usher respectively, Aidan Crowley from Midleton, another Lee Strand member, and Derek Finnegan.

And when they were reeled in after three miles, Corkman Timmy Barry, riding for Tipperary Dan Morrissey, launched a lone crusade but was captured by David O’Loughlin of the Ireland-Irish Sports Council team, John Tanner from Lancaster and Jonas Holmkvist.

Then Rory Wyley from Dungarvan, who rides with the London Irish Team, initiated an attack joined by Steve Cummings of the Great Britain team and two other English riders, John Tanner and Rob Enslin. They stayed away for 25 miles and when the Irish and Kazakhstan teams went to the front, the field began to split. Simon Kelly from Mayo/Galway Bay escaped along with Tobias Lergard of Sweden, Dane Lars Wermberg and Tanner.

They were joined by several other riders led by Ciaran Power, Dubliner Scott McDonald, Steve Cummings of Great Britain, and a Kazakhstan rider. David O’Loughlin also got into the action and Paul Griffin from Tralee, a member of the Dublin Iarnrod Eireann team, was again involved in the action. At 71 miles a leading group of 30 riders had assembled but split.

Evans, who won the opening stage on Sunday to claim the race leadership, bridged a 50-second gap on his own while taking two other riders in his slipstream. When Power realised he was arriving he dropped back to help him join the group.

“It was a very good group and it should have stayed away but some riders were not willing to commit themselves,” Evans said. “Had they worked they could have had a big impact on the general classification.”

But for most it was just a case of getting to the finish and probably the most disappointed rider was the man who finished second, Assan Bazayev. “We were hoping to win,” team manager Vadim Gorbachevskiy, said. “But there is still time. We have a very young team here. We are preparing for next year. But we rode in Mexico in February and March and did very well there. We are good in the mountains and we are looking forward to Thursday and Friday.”

Everything is still up for grabs as Evans clings on to his slender lead and McLeod from South Africa, who finished third on yesterday’s stage, insisted his team were all in good form.

“We have been racing in France for four weeks and did very well. Jamie Ball won the time trial and was second overall when he crashed out near the end,” he said.

Stage winner Holmkvist insisted that the weather can play a major role in the destination of the title. “It was very cold today. I hope we don’t have any more rain,” he said. With a further deterioration forecast for today that would appear to be unlikely with even the race organiser, Dermot Dignam, admitting that yesterday’s stage was very difficult.

Today’s stage takes the riders to Ballina via Westport (12.30pm), Newport (12.55pm), Keenagh (Cat 3 KOM, 1.30pm) and Crossmolina, due to arrive at the finish line at 2.40pm

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