Cycling: Bagdonas survives Ras carnage to take stage
On a day of absolute carnage in the An Post Ras, last year's overall winner Gediminas Bagdonas clawed his way back from a massive crash that left him in a ditch to snatch victory on stage three into Westport.
Bagdonas, like dozens of others, hit the deck when Dan Craven, who was riding in second place in the peloton, saw his rear wheel slide from under him on the greasy descent of second-category climb Gowlaun, with 50km remaining.
With nowhere to go, the rest of the peloton ploughed into the Namibian, leaving the road strewn with bikes and bodies.
As Bagdonas' Irish An Post team-mates Ronan McLaughlin, Sean Downey, Sam Bennett and Conor McConvey picked themselves up off the tarmac and went in search of their team leader, the Lithuanian emerged from a ditch with a broken shoe, looking for his bike.
"It was unbelievable," said An Post team boss Kurt Bogaerts. "It was just one blocked road with bikes and bodies.
"Bagdonas broke his shoeplate in the crash. There was no sign of him, though, because he was so covered in the ditch. He came running up to the car and changed his shoes and the guys were all held up.
"Ronan was down, Bagdonas was down, Sean was down and then we just tried to recover as quick as possible."
While Bogaerts was on hand to replace Bagdonas' racing shoe, by the time the green-clad squad had remounted, they were in the fourth group on the road, almost three minutes behind lone leader Sondre Hurum of Norwegian team Oneco Masterhus.
Hurum had previously had Welshman Gruffud Lewis (Britain UK Youth Cycling) and Irish duo Eugene Moriarty (Meath East Spin 11) and Timmy Barry (Carlow Dan Morrissey Speedy Spokes) for company, but shortly after Moriarty was dropped over the top of the climb, Barry and Lewis also hit the deck on the wet descent and never regained contact.
"My front wheel just went from under me in the rain," said a disappointed Barry. The fella in front of me got around the corner but I hit the deck and the guy behind me rode into me and that was it.
"I've raced up here before and even in Ras Connachta... I dunno, the roads here seem to get an awful lot more slippery than anywhere else I've ridden. People were falling everywhere."
With the bunch now split in several pieces, Bagdonas and his 'postmen' were busy riding through groups, trying to regain contact with the front of the race as overnight leader Pirmin Lang of the Swiss Atlas Personal Jackroo team also found himself in trouble, 40 seconds down on the Bagdonas group, having taken a little off-road detour to avoid the crash.
"I had to ride into the field but I come from a cyclo-cross background so it's not a problem for me," he smiled later.
With Hurum tiring up front and acting as a carrot for the An Post-led chase group, who were in turn a target for the yellow jersey group, the front half of the race merged inside the final 15km, and Bagdonas took a frantic sprint finish into Westport, although he almost got beaten by stage one winner Marcin Bialoblocki (Britain Node4 Giordana) when he threw his hands in the air too early.
"It was very close," admitted Bagdonas as blood dripped from his fingers and a circular lump of flesh hung off his left hip. "I made a mistake putting my hands up too early and had to sprint again but I'm really, really happy.
"The teamwork today was very good. After the crash the guys waited for me. They rode full gas to get me to the front. I'm a little bit hurt but it wasn't just me that crashed today. Sean crashed, Ronan crashed, everybody crashed but it worked out good in the end."
A few seconds later, a battered and bloodied Craven appeared in the middle of the bedraggled lead group. Blood streaming down from his left cheek had already painted his legs red, and it was clear that he was not sure how he had even made it to the finish.
"I think it was me who caused the crash," admitted the clearly dazed British-based pro. "I think my back wheel slid out on a corner.
"The next thing I knew I was on my spare bike, I was pedalling and there was blood, so I don't know, I must have had a concussion and I can't really remember what happened. As I was cycling, one or two things started coming back.
"I kind of remember going around a wet corner on the descent, and it wasn't too sharp, it was just a normal bend and my back wheel just coming out.
"If that's what really happened, I don't actually know. I've no idea where the blood is coming from. I just need to get back to the hotel and work out what's happening."
Bagdonas retained his green jersey of points leader while Lang also kept his yellow jersey and U-23 rider Richard Handley of the British Rapha Condor team stayed in white.
Peter Hawkins was best of the Irish on the stage, in sixth, while Conor McConvey leads the home riders in the overall classification in fifth, on the same time as Lang.
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