Cycling: An Post set up another stage win for leader Bagdonas
"An Post is really, really strong," said the Ukranian team manager yesterday after race leader Gediminas Bagdonas took his second stage win for the Sean Kelly outfit and became the first rider in the An Post Ras to retain the yellow jersey for a second day.
"They are playing a home match, in football terms, but, of course, we will try. We are doing what we can."
The Ukranians tried to break the An Post stranglehold on the race early on in yesterday's stage when Anatoly Pakhtusov, who was just over two minutes down overnight, went clear in an eight-man move just before Fossa, 40km into the stage.
However, with Mark Cassidy patrolling the move at the rear of the break for Bagdonas and the crosswind blowing a powerful rain shower into their faces, the octet were never allowed a lead of more than a minute or so.
By the ascent of Ladies View, after 73km, it was all change at the front with a group containing Spaniard Javier Benitez, Christian Varley of the Isle of Man and Meath Dectek's Stephen O'Sullivan going clear.
Once again, though, An Post infiltrated the move and they were soon reeled in.
Bagdonas' race lead came under threat on the second-category climb of Knockanoughanish, when fourth overall Pete Williams and most of his Britain Motorpoint team managed to escape in a large group and open a good lead.
Mark McNally was also in the group, as was An Post team-mate Sam Bennett, but the former opted out of the break to help his race leader reel them in before the final climb of the day, the Healy Pass.
Here the Lithuanian had no problem, keeping his yellow jersey near the front as a 36-strong group went clear.
An attack by second-placed Ukranian Oleksandr Sheydyk on the climb earned him enough points to take the mountains jersey, but not enough time to stay clear of the An Post-led chasing group, while David McCann's overall hopes faded when he crashed on the first corner of the descent having crested the climb behind Sheydyk, Italian Henry Frusto and Spaniard Salvador Guardiola.
"I went on my own at the very bottom of the Healy Pass and the little Ukranian came up to me with a few others," said McCann.
"He took the prime and I was going well when my wheel went from under me and I broke my rear mech. I got a bike off Alex Coutts, but it had different pedals and was too small. So, that's my GC hopes gone now."
Despite a split on the descent, An Post's Ronan McLaughlin and Bennett did enough to control the group on the run-in and ensure another sprint victory for their Lithuanian team-mate ahead of Kiwi sprinter Shane Archbold and Aussie Staurt Shaw.