Aiken's heroic efforts in vain as Sokol powers to victory
Austrian Jan Sokol sprinted to victory on stage three of the An Post Ras in Charleville yesterday as overnight leader Patrick Bevin and his New Zealand team-mates proved they will be no pushovers when it comes to taking back the yellow jersey.
Although Sokol had built up a four-minute lead earlier in the stage as part of a nine-man escape that included Irish riders Roger Aiken of Louth and Cork Aquablue's Damien Shaw, Bevin's All Blacks set a steady tempo at the front of the peloton for most of the day and had closed them down to just 16 seconds by the finish.
"We had to respect the jersey and the guys just rode tempo all day," said Bevin, before admitting that if the Australian Subaru Albion team hadn't taken up the chase late in the stage, the Kiwis would have been happy enough.
"To be honest we weren't really worried about bringing the break right back," said the 23-year-old race leader.
"There was nobody in the break within a few minutes of the jersey, so we weren't going to waste any energy trying to win the stage. It's a hard jersey to defend, but we're going to take it day by day, step by step, and keep going at it."
Up front, Banbridge man Aiken mopped up the maximum points on both of the day's climbs and also won the Post Office sprint in Hospital after 127km.
"I went for all the KOH primes and the sprint because I thought it might come back," admitted Aiken.
"If it did, then and at least I'd get something and it wouldn't be a day wasted."
Despite his efforts throughout the stage, Aiken still managed a couple of late attacks in the final 3km as the bunch began to draw ever closer, as did fellow county rider Shaw.
"With 20km to go I tried to shake it up a little bit, and a couple of times near the end," said Shaw after claiming fourth on the stage. "This is a big step for me. I don't think I've even got into the top 10 before, so I have to be happy with today, but holding on for third would have been nice."
In the end, Sokol easily won the sprint to the line ahead of the duo who had arguably contributed least to the break, Italian Riccardo Pichetta (Team Idea) and Oliver Wood of Great Britain.
Shaw took the day's county rider award for fourth across the line, with stage one winner Robert-Jon McCarthy of An Post Chain Reaction fifth and an ever-aggressive Aiken ninth.
"It was a long and hard day with some very tough terrain," said stage winner Sokol. "In the end it got a little tactical because not everyone wanted to work in the front.
"It has been a great race for the team so far because we've had good results every day and also have a rider (Markus Eiberrger) fourth in the GC. We will try to improve his position in the next few days and also to get more stages."
Race leader Bevin still holds a 1'55" advantage over nearest rival, Austrian Clemens Fankhauser, with Alessandro Pettiti of Italy third on the same time. The Kiwi also holds the lead in the points and King of the Mountains competitions, while Alex Peters of Madison Genesis, holds the U-23 jersey.