Austrian Eibegger dances clear to steal stage honours
A ride of Herculean proportions on another typically tough day saw Austrian Markus Eibegger of the Synergy Baku team claim stage six of the An Post Ras at the top of Seskin Hill.
Eibegger reached the summit finish six seconds clear of British rider Owain Doull of An Post Chain Reaction, with former race leader Patrick Bevin of New Zealand third, one second further back.
Although Eibegger's last attack had earned him the victory, it was his first, after just 20km of racing, that laid the groundwork.
The Austrian first jumped clear in a nine-man move, which also contained four Irish county riders – Simon Ryan of Tipperary Visit Nenagh, Cork Aquablue's Damien Shaw, Ronan McLaughlin (Inishowen Gateway Mccafe) and Dubliner Ian Richardson of UCD Arrow and a foreign contingent of Remi Pelletier-Roy (Canada), German Michael Glowatzki (Team Kuota), Italian Davide Ballerini (Team Idea) and Dutchman Lars Horring (Parkhotel Valkenburg).
Although they quickly opened a three-minute lead, all was not well in the break and with some riders contributing less than others to the workload, Eibegger dropped Ballerini before jumping clear with Pelletier-Roy with some 90km remaining.
The duo opened up a three-and-a-half-minute lead on the chasers by Dungarvan, before the Madison Genesis and An Post Chain Reaction teams began to close in and the peloton fragmented behind them with around 20km to go.
With the Canadian paying for his earlier efforts, Eibegger clung on to a new group containing Italian Matteo Collodel, David Chopin of France Velotec, Rob Partridge of Velosure Giordana, Doull and Dublin county rider Eoin Morton of UCD Arrow.
Eibegger then followed a Morton-Partridge break, before points leader Bevin got across to the group in the final 5km and went clear with Chopin and Collodel at the bottom of the finishing climb.
Despite his earlier efforts, though, it was Eibegger who stole the stage, passing the trio on the steep ascent and dancing clear to take victory.
"The tactic was to be in the breakaway because we knew the final hill was hard and it would be hard to control," said Eibegger afterwards.
"I got away with nine guys, but some of them weren't really working and there was no way I could go ahead with that group.
"My sport director (David McCann) told me that small Irish roads are good for a long breakaway, but today we had this big highway with a 140km headwind section! In the end I was quite happy when that small group of six guys caught me with 25km to go. It was a really tough ride today."
Despite being five minutes behind Eibegger at one point, overnight leader Clemens Fankhauser clawed his way back up through the groups to finish 33 seconds behind in 10th place and retained his yellow jersey.
"It was a very hard piece of work today for my team, but they did a great job and controlled things today," said the race leader.
Although he opened his advantage to 25 seconds over second-placed Alex Peters in the overall standings, Fankhauser is expecting a big battle on tomorrow's penultimate mountain stage to Baltinglass.
"Tomorrow will be a very hard fight," he admitted. "I think it will be similar to yesterday. Everything can change, so if we want to defend the jersey, it will be another tough fight."
Who is your sportstar of the year?
Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.
Prizes include, tickets to Ireland's against Scotland in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.