Athletics: Rostollan's great escape pays off
French time-trial specialist Thomas Rostollan used all his skills against the clock to hold off a fast-finishing three-man chase group in the final kilometres to take victory on stage five of the An Post Ras in sunny Buncrana yesterday.
The Aix En Provence rider went clear from a five-man lead group, just as they were about to be caught by a group of 15 riders, which included yellow jersey holder Pirmin Lang (Switzerland Atlas Personal), Meath DID rider Daniel Clifford and local hero Ronan McLaughlin of An Post on the climb of Slavery, 111km into yesterday's 149km stage.
Rather than waiting to be chewed up by the larger group, the young Frenchman -- whose grandfather was a team-mate of the legendary Jacques Anquetil, a winner of five Tours de France in the '50s and '60s -- took his chance to press on alone.
And he rode himself into the King of the Mountains jersey when he crested the next three climbs of Old Mountain, Pinch and Mamore Gap with almost a minute's lead on the chasers, who were now under pressure from the peloton behind.
A large crowd cheered Rostollan on as he struggled up the steep incline of Mamore, but as soon as he got over the top he went into overdrive and time-trialled his way down to the line in Buncrana, ending the stage with nine seconds to spare over Czech Martin Hunal (Sparta Prague), and Swiss duo Jonathan Fumeaux and Nicolas Baldo of the Atlas Personal team.
"I wanted to win this stage because it was the big stage of this race," said the 26-year-old from Marseille.
"This is a really big victory for me. My team did a great job for me today and I just wanted to stay away to the finish for them. I'm in the King of the Mountains jersey now, but I am not a climber, I'm a time-trial specialist so being on my own was very hard."
As his team-mates surrounded him after the line in jubilation, Rostollan had a message of thanks to race organiser Dermot Dignam.
"I would like to thank the race organisers for such a great race," he enthused. "It's my first time in Ireland, but the scenery here is spectacular.
"This race is really hard every day. There are lots of attacks and the roads are tough but it's really well organised and it's a great race."
Although he lost a couple of seconds in the sprint to Hunal and Fumeaux, fourth-placed Baldo, who had also been clear early on in a three-man move, did enough to take over as new race leader from team-mate Lang.
Another Frenchman, Baldo, was happy to keep the jersey on the Swiss based team. "We didn't catch the man who won today but we still have the yellow jersey," Baldo reflected afterwards.
"The team is strong for sure, but it's a long way to go to the last stage and we'll see tomorrow if we can defend it. But it's too early to focus on the overall win.
"The race is a war. It's so hard to control with just five guys per team and it's most important for us to stay in front, follow the groups and be alert. Whatever happens now is a bonus, but I think we can do something great this week."
Last year's Ras winner Gediminas Bagdonas (An Post) held on to his green points jersey when he led the bunch home for fifth place, 39 seconds behind Rostollan, with Peter Hawkins, riding for British team IG Sigma in seventh.
Adam Armstrong of the Dublin Eurocycles team picked up his third county rider award of the week when he crossed the line in 10th.
Overall, Baldo now leads the Ras by three seconds from Rostollan, with Hunal third at seven seconds and Lang a further second back in fourth.
Belfast man Connor McConvey of the An Post team dropped down to eighth overall yesterday.
However, he is still the only Irishman in the top 10 on GC and remains within touching distance of the yellow jersey, just 14 seconds back, as the riders head towards the daunting Glengesh Pass on the road to Killybegs today.
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