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Cycling: Strongman Bagdonas powers into Ras lead

Lithuanian strongman Gediminas Bagdonas survived a puncture and an altercation with a pothole to pull on the yellow jersey of An Post Ras leader at the end of Stage 3 in Castleisland yesterday.

Bagdonas, riding for Sean Kelly's Belgian-based An Post team, was part of a 17-strong front group that went clear around 50km into yesterday's 175km stage and built up a maximum of just over seven minutes on the peloton before a hectic chase brought the gap down to just over two minutes towards the finish.

Bagdonas, knowing he was riding towards yellow as the highest placed rider in the break, put in a one-man show of strength.

Riding strongly on the front of the group all day, a puncture just outside Newcastle West halted his momentum only temporarily as he received a quick wheel change from his team car and blasted back to the group just a few hundred metres later.

A few kilometres later, though, his stage nearly came to an abrupt halt when he hit a hole in the road and, with one leg in the air, wobbled up on to a grass banking before righting himself and rejoining the break in one quick manoeuvre.

"I was eating and I changed off the front and somebody bumped me and I almost fell off," smiled the new race leader afterwards. "I didn't crash, but it was a little bit scary," he admitted.

With 40km to go and only some of the large front group contributing to the pace, Bagdonas went clear on a flat section of main road and quickly opened up 10 seconds on the others before giving up the effort.

"Not everyone was working in the break," he said. "I attacked and waited to see if a few more guys would come across to me but nobody came, so I sat up again -- 40km in that wind on my own was too much."

Although two riders went clear on the first category climb of Crag Cave on the finishing circuit, Bagdonas took sixth on the stage to take over the race lead for the An Post team. "The last climb was very hard and very steep. I tried to follow the leaders, but it's not my specialty and the two guys got around 20 seconds on me. At this moment I'm the leader of the Ras and hopefully I can hold it for a little while."

The stage was won by Nikolay Mihaylov of the French AVC Aix en Provence team, who outsprinted fellow escapee Oleksandr Sheydyk on the line.

Although dropped on the final climb, three Irish county riders were also in the main move of the day and contested their own sprint at the end of the stage, with Patrick Clarke of Mayo Western Edge getting the better of Meath M Donnelly's Derek Finnegan and Simon Kelly of Meath 53 Degrees North to take the county rider award for the day.

"I got across to the break with the winner of the stage and I just gritted my teeth the whole way to the finish," said a delighted Clarke.

"When we hit the hill it just exploded and myself, Simon Kelly and Derek Finnegan came together. I said: 'Right lads, let's just work together, get down this hill and, fair is fair, we'll sprint it out.' They're all good men because we worked together to the finish."

Irish Independent