Bialoblocki hunts down McConvey to stay on top
For the past three days on the An Post Ras, Polish race leader Marcin Bialoblocki has been surprising elderly women at the various stage finishes by suddenly kissing them on the cheek and presenting them with a bouquet of flowers.
Yesterday the affable Pole did it again in sunny Glengarrif, having been awarded the bouquet for retaining his yellow jersey on a very mountainous fourth stage.
"What can I do with flowers anyway?" he shrugged. "It's nice to be able to give them to somebody. It makes them feel good and I feel good too."
Bialoblocki's yellow jersey came under threat three times yesterday. A problem with a tyre necessitated an early bike change, which was in turn followed by an attack on his race leadership by a 23-strong breakaway group that included Irish riders Sam Bennett of An Post, Connor McConvey (Synergy Baku), Chris Reilly (Meath M Donnelly), Conor Murphy (Dublin Eurocycles), Roger Aiken (Louth Prague Charter) and former race leader Conor Dunne (Tipperary Carrick Iverk Produce).
When this group, which contained a rider from almost all of the big teams in the race, got a gap of almost three minutes a few kilometres later, Bialoblocki didn't bat an eyelid.
"I had a problem when my tyre got damaged," he admitted afterwards. "I had to change the bike but it was quick and I didn't lose too much time or energy.
"It was quite easy. I wasn't worried about the big group because my strongest team-mate (Rob Partridge) was there so if they didn't come back I was sure he could go for the overall."
On the climb of Ladies View after 80km, however, things changed dramatically at the front of the race with a strong reaction from the peloton which closed the gap by the top of the second category climb and the yellow-jerseyed Pole finding his way back to the front.
"There was a lot of messing around in the group," said Chris Reilly of the Meath M. Donnelly team.
"I turned around near the top and could see this train coming at us from behind so I knew we hadn't long left but I was surprised how quick they were able to shut us down."
Although stage winner Russia's Kirill Pozdnyakov, Canadian Remi Pelletier, British pro Richard Handley (Rapha Condor) and Ben Greenwood of Scotland escaped again on the first category climb of the Healy Pass with around 20km remaining and managed to contest the stage win in Glengarriff, Bialoblocki limited his losses to just 28 seconds.
That was enough to take ninth on the stage, one place behind McConvey and the Pole managed to retain his lead over the Belfast competitor, although the duo remain tied on time.
"I'm very happy to keep the yellow jersey," said Bialoblocki. "I think we have the best team here and I don't think the next stage will be too hard. Hopefully we can keep it again and we will see what happens later in the week."
Domestic amateur Roger Aiken was the only survivor of the early break and took 10th on the stage with the wily man from Louth now moving up to ninth overall, 46 seconds behind the Polish race leader and earning the blue jersey of best county rider for his efforts.
"I was surprised when I saw the yellow jersey coming across to the first group because we weren't hanging about," said Aiken after had gone for a dip on a nearby beach to cool down his legs after the stage.
"They dropped me over the top of the Healy Pass but then I went for it on the descent and managed to get back up to them.
"I'm a part-timer. I'm on a week's holiday.
"These boys do it for a living or do it full-time so it's nice to be up racing with them.
"It's nice to have a jersey but it sort of means nothing unless you have it at the end."