Bagdonas claims glory for An Post
Three years after last claiming victory with Stephen Gallagher, Sean Kelly's An Post team took their second overall win at the Ras in Skerries yesterday, this time with Gediminas Bagdonas ending the eight-day race in yellow.
Thanks to some selfless riding by team-mates Mark Cassidy, Sam Bennett, Ronan McLaughlin and Mark McNally, An Post delivered the Lithuanian to the final podium with a 32-second winning margin over Ukrainian Anatoliy Pahktusov and a further 51 seconds over Pahktusov's colleague Oleksandr Sheydyk.
Bagdonas has praised the efforts of his team-mates ever since he took the yellow jersey with a stage win into Kilrush last Monday.
"I've lost count of the amount of times he's thanked us every night," said McLaughlin yesterday. "He's one of the soundest guys I've ever met so it's easy to do it for him. He's a good team-mate and if it had been one of us he would have done the same, but probably would have done it even better."
Bagdonas has been treated as an honorary Irishman this week with locals rushing to clap him on the back and pose for photos with the race leader. "I heard someone say he's from the Bagdonas of Kerry now after the Obamas from Moneygall last week," laughed McLaughlin. "We were trying to get him to say 'Is Feidir Linn' on the podium but he couldn't pick it up."
The foundations for victory were laid on Wednesday's fourth stage when Bagdonas finished at the head of a 36-man front group into Castletownbere, to take his second stage win and enough time out of his rivals to give him a minute and 16 second lead.
Although Pahktusov gave him a scare on the run-in to Tramore on Friday, coming to within 32 seconds of his lead, some strong riding by the An Post team over the final two stages ensured that was as close as the Ukrainian got.
Yesterday's final stage saw three-time Irish road race champion David McCann of the Giant Kenda team solo to victory after a long breakaway with Britain's Tobyn Horton of the Motorpoint team.
With a three-and-a-half-minute advantage over the peloton on entering the finishing circuit, McCann dropped Horton on the climb of the Black Hills first time up and was left on his own up front with the gap coming down to under two minutes.
"He was so strong," said Horton of the stage winner. "I was struggling on his wheel. It was like riding behind a motorbike."
McCann used his strong time-trialling skills to tear around the final circuit and hold on to win by 14 seconds.
"I reckoned we'd need four minutes going onto the circuit," said the Belfast man.
"We had three and a half minutes so I didn't think it would be enough, but it's a hard circuit for the sprinters' teams to reel you in because the sprinters tend to get dropped on the hill."
Shane Archbold of New Zealand led in the peloton for second to bring home the green points jersey, with team-mate Aaron Gate taking the white jersey of best U-23 rider by finishing fifth overall.
Bagdonas finished safely in the middle of the field to claim overall victory.
"It was so hard in the last few days but now it's finished so I'm very happy," said Bagdonas. "It was a bit dangerous on the road to Tramore and I had a hard day and spent the last eight kilometres on my own. But the team have been fantastic. This is my biggest victory ever, so I'm really happy."
Third-placed Sheydyk consolidated his lead in the King of the Mountains competition yesterday while the British Motorpoint team took the international team prize.
Adam Armstrong of Dublin Eurocycles took the county rider award, finishing 46th on the stage, while the Carlow Dan Morrissey team won the county team overall.