Friday 23 March 2018

Cycling: Wetterhall holds rivals at bay to secure Ras

Gerard Cromwell

Alexander Wetterhall landed the biggest victory of his short road career when he wrapped up the FBD Insurance Ras in Skerries yesterday.

The 24-year-old Swede only took up road racing last year after crossing over from mountain biking.

"This is my biggest win," said the Swede yesterday. "I won the Swedish national time-trial championships last year, but this is even better.

"I've only done four or five stage races before, so this is a fantastic result. It's incredible."

Having taken the yellow jersey after stage four of the race in Tipperary, Wetterhall almost lost the lead the next day on the difficult climb of Seskin Hill outside Carrick-On-Suir.

He came out of that stage with an eight-second lead over Austrian Josef Kugler and spent the rest of the week defending the jersey.

On Saturday, Kugler was dropped in the Wicklow mountains and Wetterhall's nearest rival was British pro Peter Williams at 59 seconds. That cushion was enough to see him safely through yesterday's final stage around Skerries.

"The last three days have been so hard; to defend just eight seconds is really difficult in a race like this, where there is constant attacking and people jumping up the road," he said.

"Yesterday we gained a few seconds and I'd like to thank my team. They did incredible work for me every day.

"On Saturday, they were really tired after the big mountain but I managed to do it myself, keep it together and today they really helped me. My guys were strong."

Meath man Mark Cassidy, winner of Saturday's stage, went on the attack again yesterday in an effort to win the closely fought King of the Mountains competition.

He was tied with team-mate David O'Loughlin for the jersey at the beginning of the stage, with Swedish pro Fredrik Johannson only three points adrift of the An Post duo.

Cassidy slipped away with Ireland's Neil Delahaye, two-time Ras winner Chris Newton (Rapha Condor), German Bastine Burgel (Thuringer Energie), Kugler (KTM) and British pros Kit Gilham (Sigmasport) and Ian Bibby (Motorpoint) after 20km.

Cassidy took maximum points on the first of the day's four climbs at Pluckhimin, outside Garristown, after 85km but by the next climb had been dropped from the front group, with Delahaye, Newton and Burgel cresting the summit of Cross of the Cage with a minute's advantage.

However, the An Post youngster did enough to keep his pink jersey as he crossed the line in fourth place.

"I didn't think I was going to get anything out of it a few days ago," said Cassidy. "I was starting to get tired at the end of the week. I was pretty disappointed on Seskin Hill. I was in the break all day and could only manage fourth on the stage.

"I wanted to win there because my girlfriend Stacey (Sean Kelly's daughter) is from there. To get the stage win yesterday was fantastic and now I've won the King of the Mountains too, which was unexpected really. It's a great thing to have on your CV, mountains winner in a 2.2-ranked race."


As Delahaye and Burgel tired on the first climb of the Black Hills outside Skerries, Newton attacked in a bid for stage glory, but he too was reeled in on the final lap as the German team set up sprinter John Degenkolb, and the green jersey winner made it look easy as he coasted to a sprint victory -- his second of the Ras.

"We had one guy in the break who did a very good job for us," said the German. "By having him in the break, it meant we could relax in the peloton and didn't have to chase. I could concentrate on the sprint with my other team-mates and they did a very good job. I only had to race for 200 metres."

Connor McConvey was best-placed Irish rider overall in fourth, and winner of the U-23 competition, finishing one minute and 45 seconds behind Wetterhall and agonisingly close to a podium spot, just 15 seconds behind Dan Craven of Rapha Condor. "I tried to get rid of Craven today," said the 21-year-old An Post rider.

"But it just wasn't happening. It's a relief that it's all over and I've come away with a few good results, fourth overall and the white jersey.

"This is my biggest result so far and it's fantastic. It would have been nice to top it off and get on the podium, but it's been a great week for us."

The An Post team also took stage wins through Cassidy and O'Loughlin and won the best international team award.

The Dublin Eurocycles squad of Frazer Duncan, Conor Murphy, Ryan Sherlock, Adrian Hedermann and Tomas Martin took the county team prize, with Sherlock also taking best county rider overall.

Mayo Western Edge's Chris Coyle finished 10th to take the final County Rider prize on the stage.

Irish Independent

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