Mullingar firefighter Damien Shaw claimed the biggest victory of his career yesterday when he soloed clear of a 13-man breakaway group to win the national road race championships title in Omagh.
The Team Asea amateur signalled his intent early in the 168km race, going clear on the first of seven laps of a mainly flat circuit and helping force a 13-man group clear one lap later.
While a mechanical saw Sky pro Philip Deignan's title race come to an abrupt halt back in the peloton, Shaw turned around to find he had team-mates Ali MacAuley, Chris Reilly and Roger Aiken alongside him in the break.
Also in the move were local heroes Marc Potts and Stevie McKenna of Omagh Wheelers, Daniel Stewart of Phoenix, Conor Dunne (An Post-Chain Reaction), Sean Hahessy (Fitscience), Connor McConvey (3M)Stephen Clancy (Novo-Nordisk), Anthony Murray (Covey), Mark Dowling (DID Dunboyne) and up-and-coming talent Eddie Dunbar (NFTO Pro Cycling), who took a silver medal in the elite time trial championships three days previous.
Despite the best efforts of four-time champion Matt Brammeier (MTN-Qhubeka), last year's winner Ryan Mullen (An Post-Chain Reaction) and track star Martyn Irvine of Madison Genesis and the rest of a 10-man chase group behind, the baker's dozen up front began to open a sizeable advantage and had over three minutes halfway into the race.
"It wasn't really planned to go so early," admitted a delighted Shaw afterwards.
"I just found myself off the front in a couple of splits and if you're in the splits at least then you can make the decision of whether to keep going or not.
"We were very fortunate to have such a big representation in the break and I think as a team we played it perfectly. We all committed and were able to force the pace, make the decisive splits and the lads did a really good job for me."
With two laps to go an attack by Dunne saw the fatigued lead group fracture, leaving Shaw with just MacAuley for company in a new front group of six. When Dunne was reeled in with a lap and a half to go however, Shaw seized his opportunity and went clear with only teen sensation Dunbar able to follow.
"When we got reduced to two men I was a bit worried we might be worked over in the finale so it was better to be on the attack rather than on the defensive," said Shaw afterwards.
"Three or four lads were sleeping and myself and Eddie found ourselves off the front without really attacking."
With the distance beginning to tell on the rest of the group, the chase was limited and Shaw and Dunbar stormed into a two minute lead on the last lap. The Mullingar man then jumped clear with 5km to go, taking a minute out of the Cork teenager by the finish and earning the right to wear the shamrock jersey of Irish champion for the next year.
Having finished second on two stages of this year's An Post Ras, Shaw's victory, he admitted, wiped those disappointments from his mind.
"It was in my mind alright," he said of his near misses. "The Ras went well but sometimes a little bit of disappointment can be the best thing for you and keeps you going. Today I felt great all day and did everything right. Some days are like that, you get in the right move at the right time. I've had my day today and I'm delighted."
Although disappointed with his silver medal, Dunbar had the consolation of adding the U-23 gold to his tally on the day.
"I suppose it's a bitter sweet feeling," admitted the 18-year-old. "I always aim high and I wanted the elite title today. The flat course didn't really go in my favour but adding another national title to my name is all good.
"I would have liked the elite title too but you just can't fault Damien. I was wrecked, absolutely wrecked when we went clear.
"He was so strong. I kind of knew I wouldn't be able to compete with him but I knew I had to hold onto him as long as I could. We went over the top of the climb the last time and he attacked again and I had nothing left to go with him.
"The strongest guy won on the day and you can't fault that. Damien was very impressive and he deserved the win today."
Dunne managed to attack the rest of the early breakaway group for third while Stewart took ninth and the U-23 silver medal ahead of 10th placed Hahessy.
With three men in the first 11 over the line, Shaw's Team Asea won the team prize.