Bennett heroics rescue Bagdonas
Young Irish rider Sam Bennett was hailed for his valiant efforts in preserving the Ras overall lead of An Post team-mate Gediminas Bagdonas on Stage 6 to Tramore yesterday.
Bagdonas and his An Post colleagues came under constant attack from the start yesterday, with groups disappearing up the road every few minutes in the early kilometres.
However, they managed to keep everything under control until the third-category climb of Kilmore after 80km. By the summit of this drag, a group of 18 riders had broken the elastic to the bunch and opened a significant gap.
Although Bagdonas managed to infiltrate the move, the Lithuanian was the only An Post rider to do so, and looked vulnerable until 20-year-old Bennett -- from Carrick-on-Suir -- clawed his way across with 11 others around 10km later.
"We had Bagdonas in the move but he was isolated," said An Post team manager Kurt Bogaerts.
"Sam was able to get across, but it was pure luck that he made it. That made the difference. One guy is not enough but that one guy, Sam, went over his limit and controlled the race for as long as he could until 20km to go.
"He rode tempo in the group with all the guys on his wheel and he saved the jersey. If Sam hadn't done that work, we would have lost the jersey today."
The 30-strong yellow jersey group now had over two and a half minutes on the rest of the race, but the attacks kept coming on the road to Tramore.
Australian Lachlann Norris (Drapac), Ukrainian Anatoliy Pakhtusov (ISD-Lampre), Wouter Sybrandy of the British Sigma Specialized team and Marcin Bialoblocki of Britain Motorpoint went clear before Dungarvan, but Norris punctured out of the move as the three leaders built up a lead of one minute over the remnants of the Bagdonas group with 50km left.
Norris was soon picked up by a newchase group containing Spaniard Jose Carrasco of KTM Murica and Irish duo David McCann (Giant Kenda) and Sean Downey of the Skoda Ireland national team. This quartet found themselves halfway between break and bunch with 40km to go.
With 25km remaining and Bagdonas almost two minutes down, Bennett was forced to ride on the front of the yellow jersey group for the race leader, as 10th-placed Pakhtusov began to eat into his overnight deficit of two minutes and 21 seconds as the breakaway's advantage continued to grow up front.
Downey too was looking to take back time lost on earlier stages.
"Today I just had to go for it," said the 20-year-old from Dromore. "It was all or nothing. It was a big day. It didn't look like a big day on the profile but today was a very big day.
"For the last five kilometres I knew I had to bury myself, ride as hard as I could to the finish line to get some time back."
Although he never made it across to the leaders, Downey jumped up the overall standings to 11th.
With five kilometres to go, Pakhtusov was just 11 seconds short of taking over the race lead and the uphill finish in Tramore was left to decide the destination of the yellow jersey.
Sybrandy was the first of the lead trio to attack but was reeled in by the attentive Pakhtusov, who jumped clear at the foot of the climb. The Ukranian led until 100m from the top where Bialablocki launched his sprint to steal the stage.
"It was a good finish for me. I like hills," said the happy Pole, who has been based in England for the past six years.
"This is my best victory ever. It's a very good race but very hard because everybody races like it is for only one day here."
Pakhtusov may not have taken stage glory, but he took enough time out of Bagdonas to move up to second place overall and is now just 30 seconds behind. Bagdonas lost the green jersey of points leader.