Evans wins sprint into Roscrea

TOMMY EVANS, riding for the Irish Sports Council team, got the FBD Milk Rás off to a flying start yesterday when he won a two man sprint for stage victory with the young Dane, Ari Hojgaard, into Roscrea and claimed the first yellow jersey of this year’s showpiece.

It was a spectacular finish to what was a tough opening stage from Dublin that incorporated a visit to The Cut, high in the Slievebloom Mountains where Maxim Inglinskiv from Kazakhstan led the peloton a merry dance into a ferocious headwind to claim the first polka dot jersey of the race.

In fact much of yesterday's racing centred around the 22 year old Kazakhstan rider who sprinted away once the peloton left the main road for the climb and took the KOH and Hot Spot points 33 seconds clear of everybody else.

And it was the chase to reel him that eventually fashioned the race as he hung on defiantly after the descent. Once the race hit the main road and headed for Mountmellick everyone wanted a go at him.

Eventually it was a three man group comprised of the defending champion, Ciaran Power (Ireland/Irish Sports Council), Ari Hojgaard and Jonas Ljungblad (Sweden) who snared him but he still hung on and when the main bunch loomed up on them it was Hojgaard who kept the momentum going and ended up clear on his own.Hojgaard knows the race having finished seventh overall last year. In fact he was third up to the penultimate stage when he lost time in the Wicklow Mountains and ended up second on the young riders classification.

But just when it appeared as if he might be capable of opening up a stage winning lead Tommy Evans, the 1996 winner, came through to join him accompanied by Paul Manning (Great Britain), who won the title two years ago and, gamely, he went to work with them to put some daylight between themselves and the bunch.

Their cause was not helped by the strong side-wind that persecuted them all day and then Manning lost touch.

"Paul Manning appeared to cramp and we just kept it going as best we could," Tommy Evans said. "Ideally I did not want to take the yellow jersey at this early stage but I saw the opportunity of a stage win and those don't present themselves too often."

He won the sprint to claim his fourth stage win he won stages previously in 1996, 1998 and 2000 admitting afterwards that he thought the Dane had picked up some bonuses in the early Hot Spot sprints.

"Really there is too much racing left to think about defending the jersey," he said. "Each member of the team went out today just to be active and we were. Ciaran (Power), Davy (O'Loughlin) and myself had ridden together on teams before and we knew what to do.

"I came into the race with pretty good form but I was sick for a week after winning the Tour of the North and then, when I went back to France, I had a fall and was out for another couple of days.

I am looking forward to the remainder of the race. It is the same route up North that we took when I won the title back in 1996 so I know it pretty well."

The sprint for third place was won by Cody Stevenson (Australia Team Down Under) who pipped Chris Newton (Great Britain) who could be Great Britain's main hope on the evidence from yesterday with the Swede, Jonas Holmkvist, fifth on a day when the Swedes showed quite an amount of potential.

"It was tough but not quite as difficult as two weeks ago when I rode the Tour of Norway in snow," the Australian said, warning that the Swedes were very strong in that race.

"Third's OK. We still have a long way to go."

The Americans were involved in most of the action yesterday and there were some promising moves from the Irish. Ciaran Power and David O'Loughlin were involved in chases, Corkman Timmy Barry, riding for Tipperary Dan Morrissey, enjoyed his moment in the lead, teak tough Paul Griffin from Tralee was involved in a chase as was Ritchie Cahill from Banteer.

Eugene Moriarty was also very much involved and his Lee Strand team-mate, Aidan Crowley claimed points in one of the early Hot Spot sprints to gain eighth place overall.

Eddie O'Donoghue from Clonmel, riding for Usher Dublin got the prize for the top county rider yesterday when he finished ninth on the stage.

Todays stage takes the riders to Clifden (117 miles), departing Roscrea at 11 am, via Birr, Portumna, 12 noon, Killimor, Loughrea 12.50, Craughwell 1.07 pm, Moycullen, Oughterard 2.25, Maam Cross 2.50 with the finish around 3.40 pm.

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