Lithuanian sprinter Gediminas Bagdonas delivered the An Post team's first stage win at this year's An Post Ras yesterday when he won a four-man sprint into Kilrush.
On a stage battered by gusting winds which saw the bedraggled peloton arrive 34 minutes after the stage winner, New Zealand's Shane Archbold took over in the yellow jersey as overnight leader Dean Downing succumbed to cramp in the final 14km of the 164km stage.
At one point Downing was over five minutes down on an eight-man breakaway group which included Irish duo Martyn Irvine of Giant Asia and Robin Kelly of Kildare, but the breakaway's lead crumbled in the blustery conditions and their numbers diminished.
As they made their way up Corkscrew Hill, 92km into the day's proceedings, there were only five left up front. By the time Irvine took the points at the summit ahead of Australian Stuart Shaw of the Drapac Porsche professional team to claim the first King of the Mountains jersey of the Ras, the chase was on and Downing made his way across with a 50-strong group shortly after.
"It was a bit of a suicide mission," smiled Irvine after his second long breakaway in as many days. "After about 10 minutes we were like 'uh oh, maybe we shouldn't have done this'."
Of the former leaders, Shaw found the energy to go with the next big move, around 30km from the line, and brought Downing, Bagdonas, Archbold and Ukranian Anatoly Pakhtusov with him, eventually finishing third on the stage.
"It was really hard but I knew it was better to keep going, keep riding hard because at least you were with guys who wanted to ride," said the Aussie.
Downing looked to have retained his jersey for another day but was struck by cramp with 15km to go.
"The wind was horrendous," said Downing. "It was a hard, hard day for everybody. I was five minutes down in the big crosswind section after about 40km. Five or 10 of us got across to the big chase group and a lot of guys didn't realise I was there.
"In the finale, I rode across to the move with Archbold and a few other guys and with about 15km to go I got cramp in both calves and my legs just gave way. I couldn't even follow the guys in front so I had to pull up and get a drink. There was nothing I could do. I just couldn't follow the wheels so I'm a bit p*ssed off."
Downing was philosophical about losing the race lead. "We'll stick to the plan now," he said. "We didn't come here for GC. I was very proud to wear the yellow jersey but my legs just didn't have it today so we'll see how we go and go for some more stage wins as a team."
Bagdonas outsprinted Archbold and Shaw and the adopted Irishman moved into second overall, tied on time with the Kiwi.
"It was a very long day and a very hard day," he said. "We were working to bring the break back and then waiting for the right time to attack. In the sprint, everybody was looking at each other and I was the fastest today. I'm very happy."
Although 'stoked' to take race leadership, Archbold admitted he will not be too bothered if he loses the jersey on the road to Castleisland today.
"It was a really long day," said the new race leader. "It's not very often it takes five hours to do 160km, so it was a tough day, especially in the last 40km. We were down to 20kph along the coast and it was a long drawn-out final 10km.
"Bagdonas just got the jump on me coming out of the corner so I didn't really have the speed to stay with him."
Adam Armstrong of the Dublin Eurocycles team was best county rider in eighth place on the stage.
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